GM Holden Ltd is an automaker that operates in Australia, based in Port Melbourne, Victoria. The company was founded in 1856 as a saddlery manufacturer, but in the 20th century entered into the automotive field, becoming a subsidiary of the U.S.-based General Motors (GM) in 1931. After the GM takeover, the company was named General Motors-Holden's Ltd, becoming Holden Ltd in 1998, with the current name adopted in 2005.
Holden has taken charge of GM's vehicle operations in Australasia, and on their behalf, held partial ownership of GM Daewoo in South Korea between 2002 and 2009. Holden has offered a broad range of locally produced vehicles, supplemented by imported GM models. Holden has offered badge engineered Chevrolet, Nissan, Suzuki, Toyota, and Vauxhall Motors models in sharing arrangements, with Daewoo, Opel and Isuzu-sourced models sold currently.
All Australian-built Holden vehicles are manufactured at Elizabeth in South Australia, and engines are produced at the Fishermans Bend plant in Port Melbourne, Victoria. Historically, production or assembly plants were operated in all mainland states of Australia, with GM's New Zealand subsidiary Holden New Zealand operating a plant until 1990. The consolidation of car production at Elizabeth was completed in 1988, but some assembly operations continued at Dandenong until 1996.
Although Holden's involvement in exports has fluctuated since the 1950s, the declining sales of large cars in Australia has led the company to look to international markets to increase profitability.
In 1852, James Alexander Holden emigrated to South Australia from Walsall, England and in 1856 established J.A. Holden & Co, a saddlery business in Adelaide. In 1885 German born Henry Frederick Frost joined the business as a junior partner and J.A. Holden & Co turned into Holden & Frost Ltd. Edward Holden, James' grandson, joined the firm in 1905 with an interest in automobiles. From there, the firm evolved through various partnerships and, in 1908, Holden and Frost moved into the business of minor repairs to car upholstery. The company began to produce complete motorcycle sidecar bodies in 1913, and Edward experimented with fitting bodies to different types of carriages. After 1917, wartime trade restrictions led the company to start full-scale production of vehicle body shells. J.A. Holden founded a new company in 1919, Holden's Motor Body Builders Ltd (HMBB) specialising in car bodies and utilising a facility on King Wiliam Street in Adelaide. By 1923, HMBB were producing 12,000 units per year. During this time, HMBB was the first company to assemble bodies for Ford Australia until their Geelong, plant was completed. From 1924, HMBB became the exclusive supplier of car bodies for GM in Australia, with manufacturing taking place at the new Woodville, South Australia plant. These bodies were made to suit a number of chassis imported from manufacturers such as Chevrolet and Dodge. In 1926 General Motors (Australia) was established with assembly plants at Newstead, Queensland; Marrickville, New South Wales; City Road, Melbourne, Victoria; Birkenhead, South Australia; and Cottesloe, Western Australia utilizing bodies produced by Holden Motor Body Builders and imported complete knock down (CKD) chassis. The Great Depression era led to a substantial downturn in production by Holden, from 34,000 units annually in 1930 to just 1,651 units one year later. In 1931 General Motors purchased Holden Motor Body Builders and merged it with General Motors (Australia) Pty Ltd to form General Motors-Holden's Ltd (GM-H). The name "Holden" was chosen in honour of Sir Edward Holden, the company's first chairman and grandson of J.A. Holden. Other names considered were "GeM", "Austral", "Melba", "Woomerah", "Boomerang", "Emu" and "Canbra", a phonetic spelling of Canberra.
Holden's second full-scale car factory, located in Fishermans Bend (Port Melbourne), was completed in 1936, with construction beginning in 1939 on a new plant in Pagewood, New South Wales. However, World War II delayed car production with efforts shifted to the construction of vehicle bodies, field guns, aircraft and engines. Before the war ended, the Australian Government took steps to encourage an Australian automotive industry. Both GM and Ford provided studies to the Australian Government outlining the production of the first Australian designed car. Ford's proposal was the government's first choice, but required substantial financial assistance. GM's study was ultimately chosen because of its low level of government intervention. After the war, Holden returned to producing vehicle bodies, this time for Buick, Chevrolet, Pontiac and Vauxhall. The Oldsmobile Ace was also produced from 1946 to 1948.
From here, Holden continued to pursue the goal of producing an Australian car. This involved compromise with GM, as Holden's managing director, Laurence Hartnett, favoured development of a local design, while GM preferred to see an American design as the basis for "Australia's Own Car". In the end, the design was based on a previously rejected post-war Chevrolet proposal. The Holden was launched in 1948, creating long waiting lists extending through 1949 and beyond. Although officially designated "48-215", the car was marketed simply as the "Holden". The unofficial usage of the name "FX" originated within Holden, referring to the updated suspension 48-215 of 1953.
During the 1950s, Holden dominated the Australian car market. GM invested heavily in production capacity, which allowed the company to meet increased post-war demand for motor cars. Less expensive four-cylinder cars did not offer Holden's ability to deal with rugged rural areas. 48-215 sedans were produced in parallel with the 50-2106 coupé utility from 1951; the latter was known colloquially as the "ute" and became ubiquitous in Australian rural areas as the workhorse of choice. Production of both the utility and sedan continued with minor changes until 1953, when they were replaced by the facelifted FJ model, introducing a third panel van body style. The FJ was the first major change to the Holden since its 1948 introduction. Over time it gained iconic status and remains one of Australia's most recognisable automotive symbols. A new horizontally-slatted grille dominated the front-end of the FJ, which received various other trim and minor mechanical revisions. Although little changed from the 48-215, marketing campaigns and price cuts kept FJ sales steady until a completely redesigned model was launched. At the 2005 Australian International Motor Show in Sydney, Holden paid homage to the FJ with the Efijy concept car.
In 1960, Holden introduced its third major new model, the FB. The car's style was inspired by 1950s’ Chevrolets, with tailfins and a wrap-around windshield with "dog leg" A-pillars. By the time it was introduced, many considered the appearance dated. Much of the motoring industry at the time noted that the adopted style did not translate well to the more compact Holden. The FB became the first Holden that was adapted for left-hand-drive markets, enhancing its export potential.
Holden launched the new HQ series in 1971. At this time, the company was producing all of its passenger cars in Australia, and every model was of Australian design; however, by the end of the decade, Holden was producing cars based on overseas designs. The HQ was thoroughly re-engineered, featuring a perimeter frame and semi-monocoque (unibody) construction. Other firsts included an all-coil suspension and an extended wheelbase for station wagons, while the utilities and panel vans retained the traditional coil/leaf suspension configuration. The series included the new prestige Statesman brand, which also had a longer wheelbase, replacing the Brougham. The Statesman remains noteworthy because it was not marketed as a "Holden", but rather a "Statesman".
In 1975, Holden introduced the compact Gemini, the Australian version of the "T-car", based on the Opel Kadett C. The Gemini was an overseas design developed jointly with Isuzu, GM's Japanese affiliate; and was powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine. Fast becoming a popular car, the Gemini rapidly attained sales leadership in its class, and the nameplate lived on until 1987.
The 1980s were challenging for Holden and the Australian automotive industry. The Australian Government tried to revive the industry with the Button car plan, which encouraged car makers to focus on producing fewer models at higher, more economical volumes, and to export cars. The decade opened with the shut-down of the Pagewood, New South Wales production plant and introduction of the light commercial Rodeo, sourced from Isuzu in Japan. The Rodeo was available in both two- and four-wheel drive chassis cab models with a choice of petrol and diesel powerplants. The range was updated in 1988 with the TF series, based on the Isuzu TF. Other cars sourced from Isuzu during the 1980s were the four-wheel drive Jackaroo (1981), the Shuttle (1982) van and the Piazza (1986) three-door sports hatchback. The second generation Holden Gemini from 1985 was also based on an Isuzu design, although, its manufacture was undertaken in Australia.
Holden began to sell the subcompact Suzuki Swift-based Barina in 1985. The Barina was launched concurrently with the Suzuki-sourced Holden Drover, followed by the Scurry later on in 1985. In the previous year, Nissan Pulsar hatchbacks were rebadged as the Holden Astra, as a result of a deal with Nissan. This arrangement ceased in 1989 when Holden entered a new alliance with Toyota, forming a new company: United Australian Automobile Industries (UAAI). UAAI resulted in Holden selling rebadged versions of Toyota's Corolla and Camry, as the Holden Nova and Apollo respectively, with Toyota re-branding the Commodore as the Lexcen.
The company changed throughout the 1990s, increasing its Australian market share from 21 percent in 1991 to 28.2 percent in 1999. Besides manufacturing Australia's best selling car, which was exported in significant numbers, Holden continued to export many locally produced engines to power cars made elsewhere. In this decade, Holden adopted a strategy of importing cars it needed to offer a full range of competitive vehicles. During 1998, General Motors-Holden's Ltd name was shortened to "Holden Ltd".
Holden's market surge from the 1990s reversed in the 2000s decade. In Australia, Holden's market share dropped from 27.5 percent in 2000 to 15.2 percent in 2006. From March 2003, Holden no longer held the number one sales position in Australia, losing ground to Toyota.
As of 22 March 2010, chairman and managing director Mike Devereux heads operations at Holden. Vehicles are sold countrywide through the Holden Dealer Network (310 authorised stores and 12 service centres), which employs more than 13,500 people.
Since the 1960s, Holden models have been a staple of domestic touring car racing, and the quasi-factory Holden Racing Team (HRT) has successfully participated in V8 Supercar racing. In 1987, Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) was formed in partnership with Tom Walkinshaw, who primarily manufactures modified, high-performance Commodore variants. To further reinforce the brand, HSV introduced the HSV Dealer Team into the V8 Supercar fold in 2005 under the naming rights of Toll HSV Dealer Team.
The logo, or "Holden lion and stone" as it is known, has played a vital role in establishing Holden's identity. In 1928, Holden's Motor Body Builders appointed Rayner Hoff to design the emblem. The logo refers to a prehistoric fable, in which observations of lions rolling stones led to the invention of the wheel. With the 1948 launch of the 48-215, Holden revised its logo and commissioned another redesign in 1972 to better represent the company. The emblem was reworked once more in 1994.
Holden began to export vehicles in 1954, sending the FJ to New Zealand. Exports to New Zealand have continued ever since, but to broaden their export potential, Holden began to cater their Commodore, Monaro and Statesman/Caprice models for both right- and left-hand drive markets. The Middle East is now Holden's largest export market, with the Commodore sold as the Chevrolet Lumina since 1998, and the Statesman since 1999 as the Chevrolet Caprice. Commodores are also sold as the Chevrolet Lumina in Brunei, Fiji and South Africa, and to Brazil as the Chevrolet Omega. Pontiac in North America also imported Commodore sedans from 2008 through to 2009 as the G8. The G8's cessation was a consequence of GM's Chapter 11 bankruptcy resulting in the demise of the Pontiac brand.
Sales of the Monaro began in 2003 to the Middle East as the Chevrolet Lumina Coupe. Later on in the year, a modified version of the Monaro began selling in North America as the Pontiac GTO, and under the Monaro name through Vauxhall dealerships in the United Kingdom. This arrangement continued through to 2005 when the car was discontinued. The long-wheelbase Statesman sales in the Chinese market as the Buick Royaum began in 2005, before being replaced in 2007 by the Statesman-based Buick Park Avenue. Statesman/Caprice exports to South Korea also began in 2005. These Korean models were sold as the Daewoo Statesman, and later as the Daewoo Veritas from 2008. Holden's move into international markets has been profitable; export revenue increased from A$973 million in 1999 to just under $1.3 billion in 2006.