During the second world war, it deftly offered its services to the Commonwealth government.
With car sales stalling, government contracts to produce trucks and aeroplane parts kept the firm in business and enabled it to develop the infrastructure that would allow it to shift from assembling vehicles to making them.
In May 1944 the government gave it permission to divert scarce war-time resources to drawing up plans for an Australian-made car.
But General Motors’ US president Alfred Sloan wan’t keen. Australia was a small market and he might not see a return on his investment.
When Prime Minister Ben Chifley arranged a government loan of A£2.5 million, he agreed.
Then the campaign to present the Holden as an Australian car began in earnest.
Politicians and journalists were wooed with special tours and advance viewings of the prototypes. However, it was made clear at the time that this was not an entirely Australian endeavour.
1948 Holden advertisement.
(The Bulletin, NLA)
Chifley launched it at a lectern festooned with the Australian, British, and American flags, describing it as a link “between this country and the American people”.
early advertisement described it as “made in Australia especially for Australian conditions” but with the “engineering experience and know-how behind all General Motors cars”.
“You get the dependability which stands behind such famous GM names as Cadillac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Chevrolet and Vauxhaull,” it reassured wives and husbands.
It entered the perfect market. After years of enforced austerity, Australians were ready to consume, and they finally had the money to do it. Broader post-war demographic shifts and social trends enhanced its appeal. As Australians moved to new suburbs on the outer fringes of cities, the Holden became an indispensable part of modern life.
It mocked rather than competed with Japan
Holden’s dominance began to erode in the 1960s in the face of competition from Ford and Japanese manufacturers. Rather than developing local solutions, GMH increasingly looked to its parent company GM for new Americian designs.
American commercials were imported and “translated”.
America’s “baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet became Australia’s “football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars”.
The removal of government tariffs on imported cars in the 1980s increased foreign competition. GMH responded by producing fewer models in Australia and “rebadging” imported GM cars as Holdens.
Reduced to a badge, Holden was losing its identity as well as its connection with Australians.
Although its financial fortunes improved in the 1990s, its Australianness was becoming more tenuous with each new model. By the new century, Holdens were indistinguishable from German Opels and South Korean Daewoos.
And became more foreign, the more it denied it
While advertising campaigns continued to extol Holden’s Australianness and, increasingly, its
nostalgic connection with growing up, buyers could increasingly see through them. Holdens were no more Australian than Fords, Toyotas or Mitsubishis.
Its decision to end
Australian manufacturing severed the last strand of sentimental attachment.
Denied ongoing government support, and facing a market that no longer identified with its products, GM decided its relationship with Australia was no longer worth the effort. This week’s
announcement was the inevitable formality.
General Motors has officially pulled the plug on the Holden brand, citing a lack of return on investment as one of the key reasons for its decision. This follows the discontinuation of the iconic Commodore in December, 2019. </p>
<p>In case you need a little refresher on what the Holden Commodore could do, this lap of the Nürburgring should be a good little refresher.
Robert Crawford, Professor of Advertising, RMIT University
This article is republished from
The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.