Holden is Australia’s vanguard
This isn’t an automotive blog by any means, though with my interest in cars, it invariably will steer that way on occasion.
After dissing Holden for its unwise Korean moves of late, tomorrow (Sunday, 10.30 a.m. Australian eastern time) will see the début of the new VE Commodore (“hat tip” to Autoblog) at Ninemsn. It is the company’s most anticipated model in decades and its ﬁrst all-Australian effort since the last WB Statesman in the 1980s. I don’t remember this much hype since we sat round the telly in July 1982 waiting for the huge Holden Camira ad to come on to both TV networks in New Zealand.
Holden was, as regular blog readers here know, in the toilet in the 1980s, with a report saying that it was virtually dead. It would become a retailer of cars from Suzuki, Isuzu, Nissan, Opel and Cadillac. In 1989, the VN Commodore, a widened Opel Senator, took Holden back into the traditional Australian full-size car market, but it was 1997 that saw it become a global player.
Prior to 1997, Holden had exported some cars—there were the occasional Toranas in Hong Kong, and there were Holden Premiers ﬁtted with Mazda Wankel engines once upon a time—but it was never a global player. It found itself supplying the Middle East with rebadged Commodores and Statesmans as the Chevrolet Lumina and Caprice, a trade which eventually extended (under different brands) to, inter alia, Brazil, South Africa, Thailand, Korea, China and, in small numbers, the UK.
Therefore, news of the VE Commodore (and WM Statesman) is not of the “this car will make or break Holden” variety, even if its Barina and Viva leave something to be desired and are brand-weakening. Instead, curiosity surrounds two matters: (a) how well will its exports fare with the new model, which will now be assembled in Red China as well, and during a time of high oil prices; and (b) it is the ﬁrst showing of GM’s Zeta architecture, which is supposed to underpin a bunch of American cars as well.
Seeing Australia, which has had more continuous rear-wheel-drive passenger car expertise over the last 10 to 15 years than GM in the United States, gives a sense of antipodean pride, especially after previous lemon-ﬂavoured efforts such as the Ford SA30, or Mercury Capri, as it became known in the US. Those who have sampled the Holden Commodore and, say, the American Chevrolet Impala, a car of similar size but with front-wheel drive, will point to the Australian car as being dynamically superior, with better build quality.
It may give a halo to the Australian nation brand, if played right—and does it need to play this right. While future American buyers might not know immediately that Holden had a major hand in regular GM cars, they soon might, with so many Googling before purchasing. The implications of the launch are far greater than giving Holden a leg up on the international stage. It may show Australia to be technologically advanced, opening the door for exports of goods and services in non-traditional markets—something it needs given the overall decline in manufacturing since the 1980s’ Hawke government. Olivia Newton-John-nice this is not (plus, wasn’t she British-born?).
At the end of the day, nation branding could drive a recovery, on a grander scale than GM or Australian politicans envisaged.
Del.icio.us tags: Holden GM Australia nation brand nation branding branding technology innovation export Posted by Jack Yan, 23:50
I hope that things fair well for Holden. I'm not a fan of the whole rebadging Korean cars thing, as Chevrolet did the same here and I think its a hugely negative step for a company with the automotive history of chevrolet, they bought Daewoo's brand (I don't know if this was just in the UK or international) and rebadged all the daewoo models as chevrolets, however it now means that the public has been introduced to Chevy as budget Daewoo's as opposed too the Chevrolets the American Market were used too. I don't understand the reasoning behind introducing a brand with a good name in one country as a budget brand in another. It also meant when the Corvette was released here it couldn't be branded a Chevy as then it would be the same make as all of these tiny cars.
I'm not sure if this is the same as the Holden situation, but it seems similar.
# posted by amillionpieces: 7/15/2006 11:35:00 AM
The difference here is that Holden was selling those nice Opels, and they were replaced with the Daewoos. That would be like Vauxhall replacing the Corsa with the Daewoo Kalos and Aveo, and calling it the Corsa, and replacing lesser Astras with the Daewoo Lacetti and Nubira. Essentially, the old GM range has been decimated and rumour has it that the Vectra is next for the chop. All this will do is push people into Fords and Toyotas, and if they really want Korean, Hyundais.
So Holden has gone from Barina (Corsa), Astra, Vectra and Commodore (from which the Monaro is derived) for its core range to a bunch of Daewoos and the Commodore—hardly an appealing model range. If Vauxhall did that there, it would basically commit suicide.
The Daewoo-to-Chevrolet shift was indeed international, with the exception of Korea (of course) and, I believe, Thailand (I may be wrong there). A handful of the models, such as the Aveo, is actually sold in the US as Chevrolets, but I do feel it was silly to force the Corvette into its own marque for Europe.
It would have made more sense to ﬁeld a mixture: I believe on the Continent, the four-wheel-drive American Chevys are still offered. I would have considered at least one more car in the line—GM South Africa and GM Arabia have the Holden Commodore as Chevrolet’s range-topper, and some Middle Eastern countries mix the Daewoos with real Chevrolets (for one example, see www.chevroletarabia.com, where the Corvette is part of the range).
So there are some similarities, and this all will hurt Holden. It was in a similar position in the 1980s when it ﬂogged the Nissan Pulsar as the Holden Astra and the Suzuki SJ 413 as the Holden Drover, and it seems no one at the company is much of a student of history. Then, Holden almost ceased to exist and a mid-1980s conﬁdential report actually planned for its death.
Thanks, I see what you mean, and that is a really strange move. I like the example you used of Chevrolet Arabia, it sounds like they have a good mix. I can't understand what Holden stand to gain from changing the model range in that way, like you say, if Vauxhall did it it would be suicide, and if you have the same Toyota's we do, I can see them really gaining a lot from that, as they have a very strong range at the moment, and with the added advantage that the Prius goes with the Enviro-trends. Do you think Holden will come through it?
# posted by amillionpieces: 7/15/2006 12:05:00 PM
Holden has basically gone from brand-driven—a company offering quality product differentiating via brand—to price-driven—because it can bring in Kaloses and Lacettis for little money. I would not normally be upset if these cut-price cars complemented the Opels: right now, the Astra H is still on sale, but it would have made sense for the Corsa D to be sold alongside the Kalos. Talk of the Vectra being replaced by the Daewoo Tosca makes even less sense, but it’s a cinch this will happen.
The Toyota range largely reﬂects the European one. We don’t ﬁeld a full Avensis range, with the Camry being sold as the mid-sized entry, much like in America. In any case, the Daewoos are far inferior, and selling on price is a foolish strategy for a company which once had a strong brand in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Holden faces a number of dangers, chief among which is the dropping off of large-car sales. Bear in mind this Commodore is larger than the old Omega and Scorpio—we are talking roughly the same length but BMW 7-series width. Holden knows this: it will ﬁeld the Commodore Omega as the entry-level model and the Calais as the luxury one. There will be various sporty models, but essentially, the range will be trimmed. That is always a sure sign, if you look through automotive history, that a range will be scaled back before its ultimate demise.
Some may argue that Holden has always meant a single large car anyway—for years, the only “pure” Holden, as in one in which its Australian ofﬁces had a hand in its development, has been the Commodore. But there are two scenarios for this, that its own history informs.
The ﬁrst is the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Holden sold Toyota Corollas and Camrys at the bottom end, as the Holden Nova and Holden Apollo. The original Toyotas outsold the Holdens: consumers knew. The second model is the one that Holden has had till recently: Corsa, Astra, Vectra complementing the Commodore, and ﬁnding sales’ success. And, logically, people start off buying small cars before getting to big ones, and if the small ones are crap, they won’t “graduate” to the same brand when they trade in.
Consumers are not stupid and with more going to Google or Redbook to study up their purchases, Holden’s sourcing policies—and the Kalos’s shocking safety record—will be easy to discover. So, my prognosis for the brand is not good. Holden may ﬁnd itself earning a lot of export dollars by selling the Commodore and Statesman around the world, but its own brand will gradually lose equity as it becomes known as the automotive equivalent of a supermarket own-label.
Holden will survive, but I believe as a weaker company with a shrinking Commodore range. However, it will not be as bad in the next decade as it was in the mid-1980s, when it was last regularly predicted that the Australian car was dead.
Monaro looked interesting and they have a neat concept car, the Efijy. I do find that American made cars are behind German and Japanese cars. In effect, Holden is a GM company.
Monaro is the basis of the revived (and much-criticized) Pontiac GTO for North America. The Eﬁjy is a tad too retro for me, but it’s fun to hear the story behind it. Build quality of Australian cars, in my experience, is superior to that of American cars.
Holden is very much a wholly owned GM subsidiary. I wanted to say it was like Vauxhall in the UK or Opel in Germany, but for those awful Daewoos it sells now …
The plan to have cars made in GM-DAT exported to different markets might be bad if the cars are bad quality, but there is no empirical evidence nor is there any evidence to suggest that making these cars elsewhere will result in quality improvements. That a car is assembled in Korea does not reasonably influence quality and those rational enough to base car-buying decision on price should see that.
# posted by Anonymous: 4/09/2007 06:06:00 AM
But, Anonymous, no one is rational when it comes to buying a car. Perceived quality is proven to be a massive factor and this is wholly subjective. Additionally, this is not just to do with Korean assembly. If that were the case, I would rip in to Hyundai. As it happens, I have a lot of respect for Hyundai (which I did not a decade ago).Post a Comment
Daewoo has had a record of underdeveloped and relatively unsafe cars (Lanos, Leganza, Kalos) and the Kalos and Lacetti’s dynamics and even styling sit uncomfortably with the Commodore. These all affect the Holden brand and will likely go down in history like the ﬁrst Holden Astra and the Holden Drover.
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