What Ford can learn from Holden's failure

For decades, Holden and Ford were bitter rivals. Now only one remains, but will Ford suffer in its victory?

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It’s an oft-quoted anecdote that the first thing a General Motors executive says upon waking is ‘how can we f*** Ford today?’ – and it’s no secret that the two titans of the automotive industry are always out for each other’s blood.

It manifested itself on Australian shores, too, with Holden and Ford scrapping it out decade after decade for the hearts, minds and wallets of Aussie car buyers.

Now, though, the war is over, not so much won by Ford as lost by Holden. With its nemesis of nearly 80 years now folding its tent and retreating from Australia at the behest of its GM owners, how does Ford Australia play it from here?


Genuine grief and respect from Ford

Just like soldiers from both sides playing soccer between the trenches, Ford and Holden’s intense rivalry also sparked firm friendships and a deep respect on both sides. Ford has felt the same pain, and it knows what its rivals are going through – after all, it’s been on the edge of the precipice a few times itself over the years.

“Holden is an iconic brand that holds a special place in the heart of many Australians and has done so much to shape the Australian automotive industry and the country,” read a statement from Ford. “Its vehicles have been worthy competitors both on-road and on the racetrack. To our friends at Holden, thank you for keeping us on our toes and inspiring us to keep aiming higher. We will miss you.”

Ford Mustangs v Holden Commodore SS-V Redline comparison review

Despite the changing of the public’s tastes in cars, the two protagonists kept the fight going on the track; even though it was a Mustang that won the championship and the Bathurst 1000 in 2019, it was blue-oval flags waving on high, not a prancing pony.

While the Falcon/Commodore fight died back in 2017, Ford took the lead with its Ranger/Mustang double act, and Holden was unable to react to stay in the game. Nevertheless, the Broadmeadows squad will feel the loss.

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"I work on the blue side of the fence these days, but I grew up a Holden man,” reflects a current Ford insider. “In many ways, I still am. Dad always drove Holdens. HR, LJ, LX, VK, VN, VS, VY. Mum had a Gemini, then a couple of Astras.

“The news that Holden is finished was not surprising, but it still hurt. We've always had Holden, and it's hard to imagine a future without that brand in the market place. Ford has lost its arch rival, and I don't know where that level of competition is going to be generated from in coming years. Time will tell, I 'spose."

About that $500m from Ford…

Ford Australia chief Kay Hart has been quoted this week around the fact that Ford will invest $500 million into its Australian operations in the wake of the closure. Well, that’s not quite the right way to look at it.

The company has invested solidly into its engineering and vehicle development programs in Australia; in fact, it’s spent $1.9 billion here in the last three years.

Ford Focus Titanium vs Holden Astra RS-V comparison

However, the $500m figure mentioned this week is part of that ongoing commitment, and not an extra amount prompted by the closure. Ms Hart has said that the 600-odd Holden employees who will be forced to leave the company could be in the frame for jobs at Ford “if skill sets match”, and that the company is actively hiring.

However, consider that Ford itself needs to dig itself out of a bit of a hole of its own making. While the success of the Ranger is well documented, the natural taper of Mustang sales and a raft of under-performers across its portfolio has put Ford under a bit of pressure, while the parent company’s focus on electrification and US-based truck production has put right-hand-drive projects under the spotlight.

Sound familiar?

“Ford continues to invest in its Australian operations and our 2,000-plus workforce of engineers, designers and other experts, as we design and develop vehicles for the world, including award-winning Ranger pickup and Everest SUV, sold in more than 180 markets,” said Ms Hart in a statement. “Our marketing, sales and service team works closely with our dealer network to serve customers nationwide.”

Watch this space

Ford has a renewed focus on pulling up its socks in Australia. The incoming Escape will give it a fresh tilt at the medium SUV segment, while the eagerly awaited 2021 Ranger – and V8 Raptor! – will also liven up a red hot segment.

2021 Ford Ranger: is this it?

But as we’ve pointed out, a small shift in fortunes could tip the scales the wrong way for the Blue Oval. Could it go the way of the General? We don’t think so – its position as an engineering centre for the Asia-Pacific region gives it more pull in Dearborn than Holden had in Detroit.

But there will be some long, hard thinking going in boardrooms on both sides of the Pacific as the Holden news is digested.



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