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‘Physically ill’: Australia reacts to Holden’s collapse

Australians have reacted with grief to GM Holden's announcement it's leaving the country. Images: Twitter (Richard Marles, Anthony Albanese, Paul Syvret).

“I’m not really in the mood today to talk about future business here in Australia.”

The General Motors (GM) Holden interim chairman and managing director Kristian Aquilina is having a pretty bad start to the week. 

Hours ago, he announced that iconic Australian brand Holden will close down for good, taking around 600 jobs with it by 2021. 

Around 200 staff will remain to service current customers, with the majority of staff to go from Victoria and New Zealand. 

Holden has 185 dealerships across Australia and 31 in New Zealand. 

It’s the last shuddering breath for the proud 163-year-old brand and once South Australia’s largest private employer. 

In a 45 minute teleconference, Aquilina used “absolutely heartbreaking”, “devastating”, “agonising” and “expensive” to describe General Motors’ decision to cut Holden, but stopped short of confirming a future for GM in Australia. 

He shut down repeated questioning of what a future looks like with a curt: “I’m not really in the mood today to talk about future business here in Australia.”

But Aquilina is far from the only Australian having a visceral reaction to the legendary brand’s collapse. 

‘Almost like there’s been a death in the family’

Writer Paul Syvret took to Twitter to share his Holden history, which featured his first Holden: “A beaten up (and souped up) Torana.”

“I actually feel physically ill; almost like there's been a death in the family. Holden has been part of my life since I held my first set of car keys 35 years ago,” Syvret said.

ABC journalist Wendy Harmer also shared her own memories of holidays in the station wagon. 

“Dad owned a Holden EH station wagon and us four kids would sleep in the back on family trips - until one day he discovered a nest of Redback spiders living in the rear light well,” Harmer said. 

Labor leader Anthony Albanese also described it as “the end of an era”. 

“This is about more than just a car. For many Australians, Holden is part of their family story.”

Michael Kellahan reminisced on the times when Ford versus Holden divided Australia. 

“Growing up in Bathurst meant I got to see Brock race there many times. Holden will be missed.”

And Twitter user Danny Danger Oz shared a memory of when he dressed up as Santa with his Holden 15 years ago. 

‘It’s an agonising decision for us’

Holden will leave Australia. Image: Getty

“This is an industry that has seen a massive change in a short amount of time,” Aquilina said. 

In fact, globally the automotive industry shed an incredible 40,000 jobs in the first 11 months of 2019, as the industry grapples with the shift to more sustainable vehicles. 

GM’s decision to axe Holden wasn’t around sales, it was “around investment priorities for GM”, Aquilina said on Monday, describing it as “an agonising decision for us”, and one that would cost the company around $1 billion. 

“Now that this decision is taken, it’s up to our Holden team to give this brand and its association the dignified transition it deserves.”

The writing was on the wall for Holden since October 2017, when it shut down local manufacturing and axed 944 jobs. 

At the time, Australians reacted by questioning if the government, then led by Malcolm Turnbull, should have done more to save Aussie jobs. 

Former Treasurer Joe Hockey in 2013 challenged GM Holden to leave, when the company first announced it would cease domestic manufacturing operations. 

“Either you’re here or you’re not," Hockey said. “There’s a hell of a lot of industries in Australia that would love to get the assistance the motor vehicle industry gets.”

In 2017, then-South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said Holden had been forced out of the country by Hockey and the government. 

"Every country in the world that has a car industry subsidises it," he said. “There's about 19 countries in the world that make cars. If you want a car industry, they are the rules of the game.

"I think we should have kept the car industry."

Minister for Industry Karen Andrews today said it was “particularly disappointing” that GM hadn’t consulted the government on its decision to leave Australia. 

“Holden is walking away from Australia,” she said at a press conference. 

“I don’t think it’s acceptable that Holden has made this decision without any consultation with the government.

“Quite frankly this is an unacceptable process that Holden has undertaken.”

But according to Labor MP Richard Marles, the government “told them to leave”.  

Marles wasn’t the only one pointing the finger, once again, at the government. 

“Perhaps if those Holden workers had found a way of making their cars run on coal?” the former journalist who tweets under Mr Denmore wrote. 

“Never forget: 7 years ago the Abbott government dared GM to leave & ended the car manufacturing industry. Today, Holden dies after 160 years thanks to the Liberals. The Morrison government has made it clear that it will never fight to protect local jobs,” Australian Unions tweeted. 

Journalist Antfarmer also pointed the finger at the government. 

“So Holden are quitting Australia and not Adani. Slow clap for the government.”

A timeline of Holden in Australia

(AUSTRALIA OUT) 103 year old Jim Byrnes with his EH Holden Premier. Mr. Byrnes, who lives in Mudgee, has just successfully sat for his drivers licence again, 29 September 2005. SMH Picture by STEVEN SIEWERT (Photo by Fairfax Media via Getty Images/Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images)

AAP provided a history of Holden’s history in Australia. 

1856 - Holden begins as a South Australian saddlery business.

1917 - Holden manufactures vehicle bodies.

1931 - General Motors buys Holden Motor Body Builders.

1948 - The FX, the first Australian-designed car, is released.

1951 - Holden's first ute goes on sale.

1958 - South Australian manufacturing plant opens at Elizabeth, though it does not assemble its first full car until 1965.

1968 - Kingswood and Monaro enter the market.

1969 - Holden makes its first V8 engine.

1971 - Holden launches the HQ model. Considered by some to be the best Holden ever.

1978 - Commodore replaces Kingswood.

1990 - Holden's last Australian boss, John Bagshaw, quits.

[UNVERIFIED CONTENT] Old Holden car in front of cute bungalow in Invermay, Launceston, back-streets.

2003 - Holden opens $400 million V6 engine plant at Port Melbourne, exports to Korea, China and Mexico begin. Toyota takes Holden's position as top-selling car brand.

2009 - Parent company, General Motors, files for bankruptcy in the US but survives.

2013 - Prime minister Tony Abbott says the government will reduce support for automotive manufacturers despite appeals for help.

2013 - Holden decides to end manufacturing in Australia by 2017. The Holden Commodore is to become a fully-imported car.

2017 - The company rolls its last car off the assembly line on October 20, ending more than 50 years of car production on the Elizabeth site.

2019 - GM announces it will discontinue its Commodore and Astra models in 2020.

2020 - General Motors announces the retirement of the Holden brand in Australia and New Zealand.

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