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The Long, Slow Death of the Australian Auto Industry

The Long, Slow Death of the Australian Auto Industry

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Besha Rodell, a columnist with the Australia bureau.


The news this week that General Motors will drop the Holden brand, ceasing production of the 164-year-old make by 2021, hit particularly hard. At a time when bushfires are threatening to destroy our wildlife and leading us to question many aspects of our national character, it seemed like an especially cruel blow to lose a brand that is so wrapped up in Australian identity.

Of course, this final chapter to the Holden story had been years in the making. Many people point to 2013, the year that then-treasurer Joe Hockey challenged Holden to “come clean” about its manufacturing plans in a speech in Federal Parliament.

Days later, Holden announced it would cease Australian manufacturing, and in 2017 the last car built in Australia rolled off the production line.

The Times has reported on the long slow death of the Australian automotive industry over the years, with a story in 2017 when the last Holden factory closed, and also in 2014 when it had become clear that our auto industry was a thing of the past. In that article, John Mellor wrote, “For Australians, all that’s left is to sit and wait for the inevitable end of a venerable, distinctive and once-vibrant industry.”

There are myriad ramifications to the Holden news, beyond the obvious loss of jobs (the company still employs hundreds of workers in Australia and New Zealand).

What will New Zealand police officers drive once Holdens are no longer available?

Each of Australia’s major political parties are busy blaming the other, with neither offering much in the way of hope nor positive solutions. And if you happen to have an old Holden sitting in your garage, it just became a whole lot more valuable: According to a news release from Lloyd’s Auctions, a dealer of antique cars (among other things), the value of vintage Holdens as much as doubled in the 24-hour period following GM’s announcement.

So much of the outpouring of sadness over the loss of Holden is wrapped up in nostalgia — nostalgia for a time when manufacturing was booming and Australian summers were long and lazy and beach-oriented, not as Damien Cave wrote in this week’s news analysis, “When summer is feared. When air filters hum in homes that are bunkers, with kids kept indoors. When birdsong and the rustle of marsupials in the bush give way to an eerie, smoky silence.”

Damien’s analysis touched on something else: that Australians are hungry for a way forward, one that tackles the realities of a changing economy and climate.

If we had leaders that gave us hope for that positive way forward, many Australians say, perhaps these losses wouldn’t feel quite so hopeless.

Do you have a particularly Australian memory of Holden? Tell us at nytaustralia@nytimes.com.

Here are our stories for the week:




Last week we asked you what other Australian words and qualities you find difficult to describe to non-Australians. Here’s one reader’s suggestions (some more uncouth ones removed.)

“Sheila. Bloke. Mate. Maaaaate (as in I forgot your name). Yeah-no. NA! (Very short and preceded with a nasally ‘n’ sound. Thongs (so foreign that my bloody Apple changed it to “things.”)

This’ll keep you flat out like a lizard drinking. I’m off like a bucket of prawns in the sun.”

— Mike Young

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