Holden’s Elizabeth factory in South Australia has become the last automotive manufacturing site in Australia to close its doors, with the final Australian produced vehicle rolling off the line at 10:45am on Friday the 20th of October.
The closure comes after 69 years of producing cars under the Holden name, with Holden’s past as a GM body builder stretching back even further. The final car, a Commodore SS-V Redline sedan will remain part of Holden's heritage collection.
The Elizabeth plant employed 945 people at the time of closure, though thousands more worked in its parts supply chain.
Holden chairman Mark Bernhard paid tribute to “the generations of men and women across Holden and our supply network who have given so much to our company”.
“Holden is the icon it is today only because of these passionate people,” he said.
“On behalf of everyone at Holden, I thank you for your service from the bottom of my heart.”
Holden’s executive director of manufacturing, Richard Phillips, praised the company’s employees for their dedication to the end.
“The passion and dedication of the team here is second to none, it has been an honour to work alongside them,” Mr Phillips said.
“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.”
The final four cars to come off the Elizabeth production line will stay with Holden. Alongside the red SS-V sedan one each of the brand’s other body types will be kept including a V8-powered ute, Calais V wagon and Caprice V.
Holden’s local manufacturing tally stands at 7,687,675 cars, thousands of which were exported to various overseas markets over the years with destinations including South Africa, Brazil, the Middle East, and the United States.
Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union state secretary John Camillo said “today will be a very emotional day” for Holden workers, many of whom face an uncertain future.
“There are still a lot of people that want to find employment,” he said.
“People over the age of 50 are finding it very difficult to find work.”
Holden paint shop worker Kane Butterfield told reporters outside the Elizabeth plant that his time with the brand will be “something I remember for the rest of my life”.
“It’s probably going to be an emotional day. It’s not the easiest thing, but life will go on,” he said.
“It’s pretty tragic really that we’ve let go one of the best cars around the world.”
“It’s an absolute tragedy.”
South Australia premier Jay Weatherill said Holden provided the backbone for manufacturing in his state, and that the government will help employees on “every step of the way” as they move on from car making.
“This is to some degree a sad day, but it’s also a day when people can hold their heads high and, I think, be proud of what they’ve done to create the car manufacturing capability in this country,” Mr Weatherill said.
Blaming the Federal Liberal government for Holden’s exit, the premier praised Holden’s handling of the closure as an “excellent process” that took on board lessons learned from the 2008 closure of Mitsubishi’s Tonsley Park plant in Southern Adelaide.
“This has been best practice,” he said.
“It’s very difficult to fault the way in which General Motors have approached this matter, once the decision was taken.”
“They left because they were chased out of the country by the Federal Liberal Government.”
“I think we should have kept the car industry, but that of course is a decision which has passed.”
“If you want a car industry, you have to pay for it. Those are the rules of the game.”
“I think it’s worth buying.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told Melbourne’s 3AW he was saddened by the end of car making in Australia.
“Personally I feel very sad, as we all do, for it is the end of an era, you can’t get away from the emotional response to the closure,” he said.
“Having said that, let’s look at some of the more positive aspects to it, most of the workers have either transitioned into new employment or full-time study or chosen to retire.”
Mr Bernhard said Holden focused on its workers throughout the plant closure process, and that it will continue selling imported cars in Australia for “years to come”.
“Treating our people with dignity and respect was always our number one priority during this transition and we’re all proud we were able to achieve that, we see it as recognition of their dedicated service over the years,” he said.
“With 85 per cent of all workers to date successfully transitioning, we’ve worked closely with our people to support them.”
“Right after supporting our people comes ensuring we set Holden up for success for many years to come.”
“The best way we can honour our people and our heritage is by building a successful future and that’s exactly what we’ll be focused on when Monday rolls around.”
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