Australia was forced to say goodbye to a beloved brand yesterday, following the news General Motors would axe Holden as part of a global shift away from right-hand drive cars.
Leading the cries against the decision was Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“I am angry … like I think many Australians would be. Australian taxpayers put millions into a multinational company. They let the brand just wither away on their watch,” Morrison said.
Morrison is certainly correct in reminding General Motors just how much taxpayer money has been put into keeping Holden alive, believed to be around $2 billion in subsidies, despite ending local manufacturing in 2017.
The announcement that General Motors will be retiring the Holden brand in Australia and New Zealand will be felt deeply by the entire Holden family, our customers and our fans. 1/2
— Holden (@holden_aus) February 17, 2020
But did General Motors really let Holden “wither away”?
Yes it did.
At least that’s according to professor of marketing and consumer behaviour at the Queensland University of Technology
He points to one of Holden’s most valuable assets – nostalgia.
A 164-year old company that produced its first all-Australian car in 1948, Holden’s ‘lion and stone’ logo became iconic through the popularity of models like the Commodore, the HQ Kingswood and the Monaro.
“Nostalgia is a Holden value. It’s rich history, dating back to 1856, has helped define the brand,” said Mortimer.
“Many of us who grew up in the 1970s remember family car trips to the beach in a Kingswood station wagon. In the 1980s, we watched Brock, Richards and Perkins win Bathurst.
“Movies like Puberty Blues made the Holden Sandman panel van every young man’s dream, and every parent’s worse nightmare.”
However, our affinity for the car brand ended when General Motors made the decision to ‘un-Australian’ the brand, moving production offshore in 2017.
“It killed the value that was left in the brand,” saidWe fell out of love with Holden because it fell out of love with us.”
a damaged image
The damage this decision had on the brand’s image was not lost on Holden.
Just last year, it was announced creative agency B.B.E had won Holden’s social media account.
According to the announcement, “a key aspect of the partnership involves executing tactics that improve market sentiment”.
The release then went on to explain B.B.E had so far helped decrease the negative sentiment around Holden by 35 per cent.
While a marked improvement, it highlights just how low the public perception of Holden was at the time.
If the negative sentiment around Holden was low on social media, it was even lower at car dealerships around the country.
During 2019, Holden made just 43,176 sales, marking a 28.9 per cent drop. Once Australia’s most popular car-maker, Holden only just edged out Subaru to make the top 10 list.
B.B.E did not respond to B&T‘s request for comment at the time of publication.
The Monkeys, one of Holden’s creative agencies, declined to comment.
Where did it go wrong?
While Mortimer pinpoints Holden’s death to 2017, for AFR columnist James Thomson, the demise dates back to 2002, when Holden made the decision to revive the Monaro range.
“Holden’s parent, General Motors, spent $2 billion on the plan, which was originally announced in 2002, the year Holden last held the title of Australia’s top car brand, with a 21.6 per cent share of the market,” said Thomson.
“But the plan had a fatal flaw.
“It was all built around manufacturing a type of vehicle that fewer and fewer Australians really wanted, and almost no-one else in the world really needed.”
With big and expansive sedans falling out of fashion through the 2000s and smaller makes growing in popularity, General Motor’s $2 billion bet on the Monaro ultimately saw Holden’s car sales plummet.
An anonymous insider gave the Sydney Morning Herald a more succinct explanation.
“It’s a no-brainer,” the source said.
“As much as Holden fans will be sad about this, Holden is not making money and there’s clearly not much chance of a recovery.”
what happens next?
The decision not only puts around 800 people out of a job, it also leaves the Collingwood Football Club and the NRL’s State of Origin without a sponsor.
Collingwood’s headquarters is named the Holden Centre, as part of a deal believed worth around $3 million a year.
The club will now begin the task of finding a sponsor to replace Holden.
Holden also has a deal with the NRL’s State of Origin, that has been in place since 2013.
With 2020 marking the final year of the deal, the NRL is reportedly already in talks with potential replacements, with the Daily Telegraph reporting an asking price of $20 million.
But the loss of Holden as a sponsor and brand partner will no doubt be felt the most in the Supercars, a sport that was largely built on the Ford v Holden brand rivalry.
While the immediate implications are still unclear, there is no doubt it is a loss that will be felt across the sport.
“Holden has been firmly part of the heritage of our sport and has helped shape Supercars to become the sport it is today,” said Supercars in a statement.
“The Commodore will remain on track for the 2020 championship season and we’re looking forward to seeing it alongside the Ford Mustang once again this weekend when the 2020 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship begins in Adelaide.”
Holden also commented on its future Supercars involvement.
“We will begin discussions with the organisers and Supercars and Red Bull Holden Racing Team. We will update you on these discussions at the appropriate time,” Holden posted in a statement on its Facebook account.
“We are aware of our commitment and we will work through with Red Bull Holden Racing Team the implications of this decision.”