- This article is about the Australian car manufacturer. See Holden (places) for articles about towns named Holden.
Holden began as Holden's Motor Body Builders Ltd., a coachbuilder that made bodies to suit a number of chassis imported from different manufacturers, but particularly Chevrolet. It was purchased by General Motors in 1931 and became General Motors–Holden's Ltd. In 1998, it was renamed Holden Ltd and in May 2005, it became known as GM Holden Ltd.
Australia's own car
After the end of World War II, the Australian government took steps to encourage an Australian automotive industry, and persuaded General Motors to build "Australia's own car". The Holden 48/215, introduced in 1948, was a medium-sized vehicle fitted with a 132 cubic inch (2.15 litre) engine, and based on a design proposed for the 1949 Chevrolet, that had been rejected as being too small for that purpose. Although not particularly mechanically or stylistically sophisticated, it was simple, rugged, more powerful than most competitors, and offered reasonable performance and fuel economy in an affordable package. Better suited to Australian conditions than its competitors, and assisted by tariff barriers, it rapidly became Australia's best-selling car.
Despite the arrival of competitors in the 1960s, Holden's locally-produced large six and eight-cylinder cars have remained Australia's top-selling vehicle for most of that time. The Kingswood sedan, wagon and ute (utility or pickup truck) was exported and assembled abroad, including New Zealand along with South Africa (badged as the Chevrolet Kommando), Indonesia and Trinidad and Tobago. Holden has offered a reasonably full range of other vehicles, some locally produced but others sourced from various other parts of the General Motors empire, such as Opel, Isuzu and Suzuki.
Another notable Holden offering was the mid-size Torana, introduced in the mid-1960s, and initially based on the British Vauxhall Viva. The name 'Torana' was an Aboriginal word meaning 'to fly'. The Torana hatchback was unusual in that this model was offered with a choice of a four, six or eight cylinder engine. The four was very sluggish, the eight-cylinder version alarmingly fast: the six was the most popular option. The Torana was replaced by the Camira, which was GM's medium-sized 'J-Car'. Bodywork for the Camira wagon was exported to the UK for Vauxhall's Cavalier.
Since 1978, Holden's largest (and currently only locally produced) model has been the Commodore. The Commodore was originally based on a design by Opel but went through such extensive revisions (including several generations of engines, enlargements, suspension design changes, and complete body restyles) that this "grandfather's axe" of a car must now be regarded as a unique vehicle.
The original Commodore, designed in the midst of the 1970s' fuel crises, was significantly smaller than the Kingswood it replaced or its arch-rival, the Ford Falcon. Initially it was a huge success, but as the fuel crisis faded, Ford's larger package began to outsell it. Desperate to regain sales, Holden facelifted the Commodore many times in the 1980s, making it appear bigger, though this hurt the resale value of older models. At this time, Holden were also dealing with a number of severe and long-standing cost and build quality issues (as were other car companies in Australia and around the world). Holden lost sales leadership throughout the 1980s and did not regain top spot until the early 1990s. A succession of financial losses saw the company in trouble and in danger of closing local manufacture during this period, with new Holdens being imported from different parts of the GM group.
Much of the trouble could be traced to poor marketing strategy of its products�for example, the 1980s Holden Gemini (the 'R car' developed with Isuzu and sold in the US as the Chevrolet Spectrum) had a five-door rival called the Holden Astra (a rebadged Nissan Pulsar). The two models were in the same sector and increased Holden's marketing costs.
Badge engineering was rife as the first stage of General Motors' plan was put into place: the Suzuki Cultus and Samurai were the Holden Barina and Drover respectively; and the Isuzu Piazza was badged as a Holden.
However, Holden managed to convince General Motors that it was still worth developing a car for Australia, even if it had to borrow from the worldwide parts bin. Despite the badge engineering, 'Australia's own car' was still used as a Holden slogan. In 1988, the VN Commodore was launched, based on the Opel Omega but using a stretched platform. In addition, there was an even larger model, the Statesman, which would take on Ford's LTD.
From 1997, the Commodore, one of the most successful cars in Holden's history, featured either a 3.8 L Buick-sourced V6 or a 5.7 L V8 borrowed from the Chevrolet Corvette, with the V6 replaced in 2004. The V8 offers outstanding performance from a large car at a relatively modest price. The more modest six-cylinder (still probably the largest and most powerful top-selling sedan anywhere in the world) is ubiquitous in government and private fleets. The Holden Commodore's major competitor in the Australian family car market is the Ford Falcon. In most recent years the Commodore consistently outsells the very similar Ford product, but the competition remains fierce.
August 2004 saw the Commodore receive its final facelift for the current floorplan and as well as introducing mild styling tweaks aimed at familiarising the public with the all-new model to be introduced in 2006. It also saw the introduction of the new all-alloy Global V6 engine, built in Melbourne for use in the Commodore and some export markets, and built in Canada for use in North American markets. The engine may well surface in future Alfa Romeos, too. The VZ Commodore, as it is known, sees the local car fitted with one of the most sophisticated six-cylinder engines of any local car and also offers a greater degree of difference between fleet based models and up-spec cars through an array of power outputs and transmission options.
Model-sharing under the Button Plan
Between the late 1980s and mid-1990s, the Australian government introduced a plan to restructure the local motor industry, which involved local manufacturers sharing models, known as the Button Plan, after the federal minister for trade and industry, John Button. Holden sold the Nissan Pulsar as a Holden Astra (not to be confused with the Opel-sourced model of the same name) and used the 3.0 L 6 cylinder engine from Nissan's Skyline in the VL Commodore (1986-1988). In 1988, it then entered a partnership with Toyota in Australia, to form a joint venture company called United Australian Automobile Industries (UAAI). In 1989, Holden began selling rebadged versions of Toyota's Corolla and Camry, as the Nova and Apollo, while Toyota sold the Commodore as the Toyota Lexcen, named after the late America�s Cup yacht designer, Ben Lexcen. This badge engineering proved unpopular with buyers, even though rival Ford had been successful with its Laser and Telstar models, which were just thinly disguised versions of Mazda's 323 and 626.
In 1995, UAAI was dissolved, and Holden was able to source product offerings from GM rather than from other manufacturers in Australia. Between 1996 and 1997, Holden replaced the Toyota-based Nova and Apollo with the Astra and Vectra, imported from Opel in Europe. (However, the two-door, Bertone-built Astra coup� is not offered.) The Opel Corsa was already being sold in Australia as the Holden Barina, replacing a Suzuki-based model of that name. The Vectra was briefly assembled locally for export to neighbouring countries, but this was dealt a severe blow by the Asian economic crisis in 1997. It is now imported from Europe. Due to tariffs and exchange rates, various Vectras are more expensive than the larger Commodore in Australia and New Zealand.
The first export of Holdens to New Zealand began in 1954, and for many years they were assembled at the General Motors New Zealand plant in Petone outside Wellington, until it closed in 1990. While the Holden name was used on virtually all GM products in Australia, in New Zealand other GM products from Vauxhall, Bedford, Isuzu, Pontiac and Opel were sold as well.
However, for such a small market, it made little sense to have so many brands, so each was rationalized from the 1960s. Chevrolet and Pontiac had effectively disappeared from the market by the 1970s, though there were still Chevrolet trucks from the US and a top-end Holden Statesman with a Chevrolet engine. Vauxhall's full line-up was pared back to the Chevette and Viva by 1977 as Holden's range expanded to include mid-sized cars (the Torana and Sunbird). Isuzu (selling the Gemini) and Vauxhall (with the last Chevette) disappeared on the launch of the Holden Gemini TE series in 1982. Bedford met its demise with the assembly of the last CF vans.
As 1983 began, Holden began fielding something close to a full range: the Gemini as the entry-level car, the Camira as the mid-sized one, and the Commodore in the large sector.
However, the Australian Holden Camira fared so badly in New Zealand that local GM bosses decided to replace it with a completely different model based on the Isuzu Aska (or JJ) from Japan. This was known as the JJ Camira. The Isuzu-based model survived till Holden introduced the ultimate Camira, the JE, which made it across the Tasman Sea in 1987.
As the 1980s continued and Holden's future became uncertain, General Motors New Zealand Ltd. pondered the reintroduction of other GM brands. In around 1985, there were strong rumours, and a GM report, that indicated that Holden would cease to exist in its current form, and that its models would be exclusively designed offshore. Certainly what was happening in Australia did not instil confidence: rebadged Suzukis, Nissans and Isuzus were occupying the bottom end of the range, while the Commodore was about to shift to a Japanese-designed three-litre engine.
Therefore, Opel made a small reintroduction with a tiny selection of highly priced models (Kadett GSE, Ascona GT, Senator, Monza). Research showed that Pontiac had a good reputation, so rather than follow the Australian route with a rebadged Toyota Corolla, GM New Zealand brought in the LeMans from Daewoo of Korea, attempting to fill both the compact and mid-sized sectors until the arrival of the Opel Vectra.
In the late 1980s, General Motors New Zealand attempted to use many makes and have 'GM' as the main brand. Therefore, the mainstream range in 1989 consisted of:
- Holden Barina (a rebadged Suzuki Cultus/Swift)
- Pontiac LeMans (imported from Daewoo of Korea)
- Opel Vectra
- Opel Calibra
- Holden Commodore and Calais
- Holden Statesman
with commercials bearing the Isuzu name. This, however, created little brand loyalty and consumers did not accept 'GM' as a brand.
It was only in 1994, with Holden's future more secure, that General Motors New Zealand finally became Holden New Zealand. The Opel name was dropped, and the Vectra was rebadged as a Holden, even though it was then not available in Australia. The Astra was introduced the following year, identical Opel-badged models, imported second hand from Japan, already being sold locally.
Early models of the Holden Astra and Vectra in New Zealand differed from those sold in Australia, in that they had a distinctive grille with a 'V' containing the Holden badge, similar to that used by Vauxhall in the UK. Later on this was changed to bring the New Zealand model range in line with Australia.
Similarly, the Isuzu Trooper off-road vehicle was rebadged the Holden Jackaroo, as in Australia, although owing to the widespread availability of the identical Isuzu Bighorn as a used Japanese import, that name was used on brand new models imported by Holden New Zealand. For a very brief, and with hindsight anomalous, period, the Holden Frontera was sold new in New Zealand as the Isuzu Wizard, though things have now been brought into line with Australia.
There are still differences between the Holden model ranges in Australia and New Zealand. The wagon version of the Holden Astra is not sold in Australia, while in New Zealand, the Zafira was sold but deleted in 2004. The Holden Astra wagon will be introduced into Australia in August 2005, along with the Holden Astra Turbo, and Holden Tigra.
The Holden Commodore is as popular in New Zealand (where it has hit the number-one slot in the sales' charts from time to time) as it is in Australia, often being used as a police car. It is also sold in South Africa and parts of the Middle East badged as a Chevrolet Lumina, and in Brazil as the Chevrolet Omega. Holden's exports to the Middle East and Brazil were the first left hand drive cars built since the 1950s, when it sold cars in Hawaii. HSV's modified vehicles are also sold in the United Kingdom.
Between 1968 and 1974, GMH sold a two-door variant of their full-size Holden sedan as the Monaro, with great success. A revived Monaro, based on the previous model Commodore, has attracted wide attention since being shown as a concept car at Australian motor shows, and a large waiting list after it was put into production. Starting with the 2004 model year, the Monaro has been exported to the United States, rebadged as the Pontiac GTO, and the Middle East, rebadged as the Chevrolet Lumina Coupe. It is sold in limited numbers in the UK as the Vauxhall Monaro.
Specialist companies such as Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) resell standard model Holdens like the Commodore, rebadged with sports stylings and suspension tweaks. Holdens have been a staple of domestic touring car racing since the 1960s, and the quasi-factory Holden Racing Team has been dominant in V8 Supercar racing.
- Holden Australia
- Holden New Zealand
- Holden Special Vehicles (HSV)
- Holden History fan site
- Fans' photos albums
- OldHolden info database fan site
- Origins of Holden, including the original 1946 prototype
- Holden model guidesv:Holden
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