GM loses by shedding its Aussie accent

It’s closing Holden, but here’s hoping that Australian-designed concept cars stay in their home country

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2039
Holden
Inspired by a 1953 Holden sedan, the Efijy concept vehicle was created by Holden designer Richard Ferlazzo and debuted in 2005 at the Australian International Auto Show. The car also was a huge hit when General Motors displayed it at the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit | Holden photos

Tone-deaf (adj.) — having or showing an obtuse insensitivity or lack of perception particularly in matters of public sentiment, opinion, or taste. 

— Merriman-Webster Dictionary

There is a lot of — no, way, way, way too much — tone deafness:

  • In the political world (I’m not even going there). 
  • On the internet (consider the reaction Garth Brooks performing in Detroit while wearing a Lions football jersey with his friend and former college buddy Barry Sanders’ name on the back). 
  • Even in sports (case in point: Major League Baseball’s mishandling of the Houston Astros’ sign stealing). 
  • Also, in the corporate board rooms, at least in General Motors’ corporate board room.

Apparently no longer able or willing — or both — to compete with the world’s other leading automakers, GM recently announced it was retreating from operations in countries which require cars to have their steering wheels on the right side of the passenger compartment. The move meant the demise of GM’s Australian subsidiary, Holden.

Efijy in profile

Holden dates to 1856 and saddle maker J.A. Holden & Co. It was J.A.’s grandson, Edward, who got the company involved with automobiles, at first doing upholstery repairs but soon car bodies to fit a variety of chassis, and then vehicle production. 

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GM absorbed Holden during the Depression and merged it with GM Australia. 

Though part of GM, Holden wanted to develop uniquely Australian vehicles. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile notes that after World War II, GM planned to sell American-style vehicles to Australians only to have Laurene Hartnett, Holden’s managing director, go off on his own and produce a series of vehicles that would dominate the Aussie automotive market for several decades.

Holdens also did very well, thank you, on the race track, and the subsidiary’s expertise in engineering and design not only gave Americans the last Pontiac GTO coupe and G8 high-performance sedan, but did much to bring the Chevrolet Camaro back to life earlier this century.

Pity we also didn’t get the Holden Ute, that later-day El Camino with a Corvette V8 under its hood. (I drove one for nearly a week once while doing research in Australia for a book project and basically found the Ute to be a Corvette with a pickup bed in the back.)

The Holden Hurricane dates to 1969 and was designed to follow a magnetic strip built into the road for automated driving

But now I guess all of that is for naught with GM’s decision to leave Australia. 

Except the saga really isn’t done. 

I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago about Holden’s expertise in automotive design. During that research trip to Australia, I got to visit the Holden styling studio at Fisherman’s Bend in Melbourne, to meet the designers to see some of the amazing work they were doing. 

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That work was so impressive that when Ed Welburn retired as global head of GM Design, that job – which traced back to the likes of Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell – was given to Mike Simcoe, an Australian and long-time Holden designer and executive.

Time Attack was a Holden concept, a 1,000-horsepower supercar/racer
1970 Holden Torana GTR-X would have been the Australian answer to the Datsun 240Z

In the past few days, Australia’s WhichCar Network of automotive magazines and websites reports that a decision is yet to be made about what to do with the concept cars designed at Holden, and that Simcoe is among those fighting to keep those cars, as well as Holden’s collection of historic Holden production vehicles, in Australia.

It is possible that the cars could be sold off — what collector wouldn’t want the Efijy or Hurricane or Torana GTR-X? — or perhaps moved to the GM Heritage Center, the company’s private collection in a Detroit suburb. But the hope in Australia is that the Fisherman’s Bend facility could be preserved as a Holden museum and archive, or at least that the cars would be moved to the National Motor Museum near Adelaide, where some 400 cars and motorcycles are housed, or perhaps put on a tour of various museums around Australia.

Here’s hoping the powers that be in the tall, cylindrical, castle-tower fortress buildings that house GM HQ in downtown Detroit will listen to their chief designer. And should Mike Simcoe be successful in his effort to save the Holden concepts for his native land, as his Aussie mates would put it, “good onya.”

A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I use a 40th anniversary Pontiac GTO/Holden Monaro as my daily in Fargo, ND. Lotsa aftermarket, but still LS1 based & a Tremec 6spd manual.
    I’m certain that the car is dreadfully confused by winter, not a “thing” down under, and there’s grumbling, long warm-up times, and sometimes frozen doors. I run high-end Goodyear snow tires (NOT “all-seasons”, dedicated hi-perf snows), a yellow top Optima battery, and wash underneath a couple of times a week.
    Often at car gatherings I am chastised for “abusing” a collector’s item; I’m a two-time cancer survivor with advanced Crohn’s disease, and I bought the thing to drive. If I wanted something to look at, I’d have bought a model.
    It’s a brilliant, pre-computer everything machine; on my real rims/tires it handles way above spec, rides well, and feels rock solid & highly competent at 140+ mph for miles (don’t ask how I know that).
    Sad to see Holden go. We coulda had the Maloo ute if GM cared about the youth market. Sigh.
    Godspeed, Holden.

  2. LEAVE A REPLY

    Great Write up! It is a shame to see Holden slip away. I Have the last of the last Chevy SS and it feels more American than most of Chevys current products

    Just putting this in your head again…

    Holden Commodore/G8/SS Book …..Holden Commodore/G8/SS Book …..Holden Commodore/G8/SS Book …..

  3. Holden was a wonderful bond of US engineering foundations and Australian specific design, with its cars falling between the very compact European cars and US full size, or in the 1950-60s barges. Holden had total domination of the Aussie market for 3 decades, with great cars, tough cars designed for the Australian roads and conditions, with V8 racing domination the DNA of the breed.

    The realities of manufacturing Globalisation, still allowed GMH to prosper for the last 10-15 years, with well refined overseas Opel, Chevy & Vauxhall variations being given th Aussie improvement treatment.

    The last 10 years included the closure of the “real” Holden manufacture and everything became a rebadge, but with GM products increasingly failing to match competitors with quality, style and innovation .. add to that a corporate HQ that seemed unable to rebuild any brand quality and an obsession with cheap third world manufacturing, it’s no wonder they’ve given up and retreated to their home USA market.

    The GMH Holden prototypes are certainly and absolutely part of the Australian DNA. Emotionally, commercially and principally they need to be accessible historically here in Australia. Do yourbest Mike Simcoe!!

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