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Opinion: GM's excuse to end Holden and RHD production is weak

By David Morley, 19 Apr 2020 Features

Holden closure RHD production reasoning opinion feature

In the volume game, shutting off a quarter of the world's market doesn't add up, unless bigger troubles are afoot

I described the demise of Holden as a bit like having a relative in palliative care; you know only too well what the eventual outcome is going to be, but it still comes as a hell of a shock when Auntie Dorrie does finally pop her clogs.

Standing back and looking at the chain of events now, there was never any real doubt about what would become of the brand, especially since it couldn’t take a trick at showroom level. No sell cars, no open doors. Simples. But even as late as December last year, Holden dudes were still telling me that the brand was safe and they knew of no plans to get rid of it. I don’t doubt their honesty. But I do question GM’s place in all of this.

Holden closure: What happens now?

On the surface, it was GM’s decision to get out of right-hand drive cars that was the last nail in the pine box marked ‘Australia’s Own’. The argument went along the lines of: It costs just as much to develop a right-hand drive car as a left-hooker. And since 75 per cent of our business is left-hand drive, we’ll just do what big business does and follow the money. Well, I’m not sure I buy that.

For starters, I question the statement that it costs twice as much to develop right- and left-hand-drive versions of the same car. Yes, there are packaging considerations and crash-safety to consider and the dashboard moulding needs to be flipped and, yes, those things all cost money to iron out. And I’m sure it costs millions to do. But really, what effect does the location of the tiller have on where the fuel tank is placed? Or how deep the window-line is? Or what part-number wheel-bearing is going to be used?

Sure, there will be differences inside the engine-box, but does a left-hook car need a different roof pressing to the right-hook version? Does it need a re-engineered bootlid or tail-lights? I wouldn’t have thought so. So I’ll say it again – I seriously doubt the whole double-the-development-cost thing.

Having questioned the statement about the true cost of right-hand drive, I’ll now move on to wondering out loud about the business case for getting out of right-hand drive. Sure, a GM without right-hand drive will be a sleeker animal, but it also locks it away from a quarter of the planet’s car buyers. Is this good business?

I’m not sure, and I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of another mass-market player who doesn’t have both right- and left-hand drive cars. And I can’t. Think of one, that is. Does this trend among GM’s peers not suggest that to be a major operator in the car biz, you need to cover as much of the globe as possible? And if that means having both LHD and RHD, where does that leave GM?

Is this a distant cry for help from Detroit? Despite all the hoopla about a Tesla-busting range of EVs in the future and a USD$20 billion spend on electric tech between now and 2025, is GM giving off early signs of trouble? R U OK, mate?

Time will tell, I guess. Meantime, while Holden had stink-lines coming off it for the last two or three years, I don’t think it’s just me who will miss the auld dear.

Exactly what we’re losing culturally has been a major topic of conversation at the MBC lately, and I’m not ashamed to say I’m devo’ed.

My mum and dad went on their honeymoon in a Holden, I came home form hospital in one, and the Morley boys have driven them, raced them, built them, modified them, crashed them and loved them for as long as we’ve been old enough to know them. I still have a couple of old girls in my shed and I can tell you for free, that aint about to change.

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