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Strewth, a foreign Holden? GM hopes Aussie icon will endure

Updated: 2013-12-26 17:25
( Agencies)

Strewth, a foreign Holden? GM hopes Aussie icon will endure

Workers wearing safety vests are seen through frosted windows at the General Motors Holden offices in Melbourne in this June 2, 2009 file photo. [Photo/Agencies]  

It's as much a part of Australia as kangaroos, the Sydney Opera House or vegemite, and General Motors Co's decision to stop manufacturing Holdens in the country looks like the marketing equivalent of a car crash.

Australians have reacted with a mixture of anger, sadness and resignation to GM's pre-Christmas announcement that it will stop making cars in Australia by 2017 due to high costs and a cripplingly strong currency.

But GM and independent brand experts are confident Holden will not only survive the public relations nightmare, they expect it to endure as one of the most valuable assets GM has ever built down under.

"The fact that they're no longer made here will cause some dissatisfaction and backlash but there'll still be a lot of people who like them," said Danny Samson, professor of management at Melbourne University. "It's a very well regarded brand and there's no way you'd want to throw it away."

While a combination of a strong pipeline of new models, effective retraining for affected staff and continued investment in its distribution network would help Holden mitigate the fallout, its biggest asset will be its long and much-loved history in Australia.

As Australia rose to prosperity in the 1950s and 1960s, feeding and clothing a Europe recovering from World War 2, the vehicle it drove was the Holden UTE.

The UTE - short for utility vehicle - became ubiquitous in both Australia's countryside - the bush - and the suburbs, its pick-up style flat bed handy for transporting surfboards or sheep.

Holden's popularity continued to grow during the 1970s, driven by the success of its HQ series and the celebrated in its advertising campaign featuring the jingle "Football, Meat Pies, Kangaroos and Holden Cars" - an Australian version of the North American "Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pies and Chevrolet" ad.

A fierce rivalry with Ford, most famously on Bathurst's Mt Panorama racetrack, took the brand to passionate heights.

One Holden model was even named a priceless national treasure by the National Library of Australia and the death in a 2006 rally crash of Holden racing stalwart Peter Brock, the undisputed "King of the Mountain", was a day of national mourning.

GM is adamant the Holden brand with its "lion and stone wheel" logo will remain in Australia after its two plants near Adelaide and Melbourne are closed in 2017.