Tony O'Kane | Jun 30, 2009

PRESSURE FROM THE Global Financial Crisis, soaring petrol prices, a consumer shift away from large cars and a number of large, one-off expenses have all conspired to hit Holden squarely in the hip pocket.

Australia's iconic automaker recorded a $70.2 million loss for 2008, thanks in large part to a whopping $76.8 million bill for various one-off costs, mostly related to the decommissioning of Melbourne's Family II engine plant.

Before these expenses, Holden was on track to post a modest after-tax profit of $6.6 million for the year ending December 31.

In the current climate, the result is a reasonable one for Holden. Strong products, a successful export program and careful production management would seem to have given some protection to the company's bottom line in a stuttering (if not stalled) market.

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Total sales revenue was down from $5.7 billion in 2007 to $5.4 billion, as new car buyers migrated away from large cars like the Commodore - traditionally Holden's bread and butter.

Export revenue rose from $1.6 billion to $1.9 billion due to engine exports and the newly-released Pontiac G8, but with the G8 officially canned and GM undergoing a rapid downsizing of its operations, this year's export results may be a different story.

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Before the world's economy hit the proverbial fan late last year, Holden was reportedly on track to deliver a meaningful profit. The global economic slump prevented that, like it did for many other automakers, but Holden can at least take solace in one fact: it was outdone in a big way by Ford's record $274.4 million loss.

Despite not being able to notch up a profit last year, Holden's position within the GM empire is still assured. The addition of the Cruze to the line-up should provide Holden with a vehicle capable of capturing customers downsizing from the Commodore, while the new locally-produced small hatchback that's expected to arrive next year will also give the company a shot in the arm.

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The loss of the G8 line undoubtedly stung the company's export aspirations, but new avenues for car and component exports are still being sought and the company refuses to rule out a return to the US market.

Will this year see Holden bounce back? Will the slowly-recovering economic climate allow Holden to return its ledgers to the black? We'll have to wait and see.

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