Reader Writes – Holden: A Brief History… an Uncertain Future
This is a brief look at some of the highs and lows of Holden’s history manufacturing cars in Australia, and what future it might have as a full-line importer.
HOLDEN RELEASED its first car in 1948. It was the result of a government initiative for Australia to have its own car industry. The Lion was soon adopted as Australia’s own, although the original 48-215 (FX) was an adaptation of a 1930s GM prototype, and there was often US and/or European influence in later models. The cars developed a reputation for being tough enough to handle our conditions, while offering reasonable performance for the price.
The Torana was introduced in 1967, and Holden’s large car adopted the name Kingswood the following year when the HK was introduced. A luxury version known as the Brougham was built from 1968-1971, and the longer wheelbase Statesman and Caprice were introduced with the HQ model of 1972, and discontinued in 1985.
The Commodore was introduced in 1978, heavily based on an Opel design, using the Australian drivetrains from the Kingswood and Torana until the sixes were replaced by Nissan’s RB30 in 1986. The second-generation Commodore used a Buick sourced V6 with 1960s origins. The Statesman, Caprice and ute were reintroduced in 1992.
Holden’s engine factory was chosen as one of the locations for the new global V6 to be built, and production started in 2004. This engine replaced the Buick V6, and the factory also built engines for some other models, namely the Captiva and last-generation Rodeo.
The first V8 model came in the form of the Monaro GTS in 1968, with the engine sourced from Chevrolet. A Holden V8 was already under development, and was used from 1969 – 1998. Since 1999, Chevrolet have supplied a variety of V8 engines for use in Holden and HSV models. A number of high-performance six-cylinder models have also been developed, notably the GTR XU-1 Toranas with triple carburetted versions of the Holden sixes, and VL Commodores with a turbocharged version of the Nissan engine.
The strong rivalry between Holden and Ford is in part due to their history at Bathurst. Both manufacturers introduced V8 models in the late 1960s, which were well suited to the long straights of Mount Panorama. Holden used the above mentioned XU-1 Toranas from 1970 until the release of the V8 powered LH Toranas in 1974. The Commodore took over from the Torana in 1980. Holden’s continuous production of V8 models has meant its entries have always been based on locally built cars, where Ford used the European Sierras from 1986-1992 because the Falcon was a six cylinder-only range at that time.
The 1980s were a rough time for Holden. The XD-XF Falcon was larger than the VB-VL Commodore, and more modern than the Kingswood, and proved more popular among fleet buyers in particular. The Holden sixes were by then outdated and thirsty compared to similarly-sized Japanese cars. While the initial response to the release of the Camira in 1982 was good, it didn’t last and it was discontinued in 1989. Their 1983 Business Plan was leaked to the press, which detailed the decision to discontinue the Aussie sixes in favour of an imported Nissan drivetrain. GM eventually stepped in and resurrected the brand with a new larger Commodore, and badge engineering deals with Toyota, Nissan and Suzuki also helped.
The tendency for a new model to be bigger than the one it replaces contributed to the decline of larger cars. Fluctuating fuel prices mean that people are looking more carefully at fuel economy. So called, small cars like the Corolla and Mazda3 become better (and generally bigger) with each new generation, and ‘Soft-roaders’ like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V have steadily become more popular since the mid-1990s. Holden’s response to this has been somewhat inadequate. Their small car offerings lack continuity from one generation to the next, both in name and manufacturing source. The Commodore-based Adventra from 2003-2006, initially as a V8-only range, but later adding V6 variants. The Captiva was launched in 2006 with both five- and seven-seat body styles, and the Trax in 2013.
Holden has had an export program in place for several decades, even sending V8 Commodore and Caprice models to the US. The Zeta platform underpinning the VE and VF Commodores was also used for the fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro, and Holden has recently designed a number of concept cars for other GM brands.
GM is in the process of reducing their presence in RHD markets. Opel and Vauxhall have been sold to the PSA Group, so the long-term plan for the Astra and Insignia-based Commodore isn’t clear. More recently, GM has announced it will stop selling vehicles in South Africa and India, reducing overall RHD volume. As we all know, Holden ceases manufacturing in October this year.
Despite GM saying they are 100% committed to Holden, its future looks, at best, uncertain. Will the brand be rejuvenated over the coming years, sold off, or simply retired.
Images are public domain via Wikimedia Commons.