October 25, 2017
The last vehicle made by General Motors’ Holden unit rolled off a production line in Australia on Friday, bringing decades of car manufacturing in the country to an end.
The red Commodore sedan, produced at a plant in the southern city of Adelaide, capped nearly 70 years of car-making at Holden. For Australia as a whole, it marked the demise of an iconic industry.
After the last locally made Holden, all cars bought in the country will be imported from overseas.
Australia faced a “toxic combination” of problems that “just means it makes little economic sense to produce cars” there, said Michael Mol, an international business professor who’s studied the country’s car industry.
Its relatively small local market and remote location combined with the rise of cheaper manufacturing powerhouses in Asia left car companies with little choice, according to Mol, who heads the department of strategic management and globalization at the Copenhagen Business School.
Ford was the first to back out, announcing in May 2013 that it was closing its Australian plants. GM followed suit seven months later, and Toyota dealt the final blow in February 2014.
Since then, the industry has experienced a drawn-out demise that has raised questions about the future of Australian manufacturing in general.
GM stressed on Friday that Holden would keep roughly 1,000 staffers in Australia, including about 350 in design and engineering. But that’s just a fraction of the thousands of manufacturing jobs wiped out by the collapse of the local auto industry.
The problem was that Australian car buyers weren’t willing to pay a premium for vehicles that were “Made in Australia,” Mol said.
Holden’s executive director of manufacturing, Richard Phillips, insisted that the company’s Adelaide workers kept standards high right to the end.
“In the final years of production, we have been building categorically the best-quality cars to ever roll out of this plant, and our last car was our best,” he said.
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