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Last Australian car to be built today

The 2017 Holden Commodore on the production line in Elizabeth. Photo: Joshua Dowling.
The 2017 Holden Commodore on the production line in Elizabeth. Photo: Joshua Dowling.

THE last ever Australian-made cars are due to roll off Holden's Elizabeth production line on Friday.

The historic occasion will mark the end of almost a century of automotive manufacturing for the nation, and 69 years for Holden.

Fewer than half a dozen cars are due to be built before midday in a private ceremony attended by about 1000 Holden factory workers past and present.

The final examples of the Holden Commodore sedan, wagon and ute - and Caprice limousine - are expected to be kept by Holden as museum pieces.

The last car, a red Commodore V8 sedan, will mark the end of Holden manufacturing - and an industry that represented approximately 50,000 jobs at more than 120 parts suppliers across Australia.

It will be lights out for the Australian made Holden Commodore today. Photo: Joshua Dowling
It will be lights out for the Australian made Holden Commodore today. Photo: Joshua Dowling

Holden began manufacturing cars in Port Melbourne in 1948 but the Elizabeth facility didn't open until 1958, initially building car bodies before becoming a vehicle assembly line in 1965.

Holden factories at other sites in NSW, Queensland and Victoria followed before they too were shut.

In the end, Holden will have built a total of 7.6 million cars - including more than 2.3 million Commodores, not including exports - versus Ford's tally of 5.9 million vehicles and Toyota's total of 3.4 million.

Ford, which had been making cars in Australia for 91 years, closed its Broadmeadows and Geelong assembly lines a year ago, in October 2016.

Toyota, which had been making cars in Australia for 54 years, closed its Camry factory in Altona earlier this month.

Holden shut its Port Melbourne plant in November 2016 after producing more than 10 million engines over 68 years, stockpiling V6s for the last 12 months of car assembly.

Former Holden boss Mark Reuss, who fought to save Holden during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis - when General Motors axed its struggling global brands during bankruptcy - paid tribute on social media in the lead-up to today's factory closure.

Mr Reuss was instrumental in getting the Cruze small car built alongside the Commodore in 2011 and revived exports of Holdens to the US, to boost output at Elizabeth.

Some of the final batch of Holden Commodores ready to be transported to dealers. Photo: Thomas Wielecki.
Some of the final batch of Holden Commodores ready to be transported to dealers. Photo: Thomas Wielecki.

"(Today) will be a very emotion filled day for me. Like many people who have worked for Holden, I put my heart and soul into the place. I brought my wife and kids to a far away land of Australia, and we all fell in love with the people, the cars, and the culture," said Mr Reuss, now based in his home town of Detroit and among General Motors' most senior executives.

Mr Reuss became so attached to Holden he restored a classic 1959 FC Holden sedan and took it with him back to Detroit.

"We are lucky to have this special place and people as a large piece of who we are as a family. It is hard to put into words, but … we thank all of you and God Speed to those who made Holdens. We will look forward to a new future for Holden engineering and design. Thank you all."

Happier days. A Holden Commodore billboard from 1978. Picture: Supplied.
Happier days. A Holden Commodore billboard from 1978. Picture: Supplied.

Although the Elizabeth factory is closing, General Motors will retain about 350 Holden designers and engineers in Port Melbourne to work on foreign cars, some of which will be sold in Australia.

The president of General Motors globally, expat New Zealander Dan Ammann, who with Mr Reuss is helping steer more right-hand-drive vehicles Australia's way, said: "We are hugely grateful for all of the effort and energy the employee base has put in over decades, we're all incredibly proud of what's been achieved".

"The decision we made (to end manufacturing) was made in the best interest of the business for the long term and we're committed to making sure Holden is incredibly successful in the future," said Mr Ammann.

Although Holden is in the process of culling 30 dealerships it will still have 200 showrooms across Australia, second only to market leader Toyota.

The last generation Holden Commodore, left, with the first from 1978. Picture: Supplied.
The last generation Holden Commodore, left, with the first from 1978. Picture: Supplied.

With the factory gone Holden will instead become solely an importer of vehicles, with 20 new models due by 2020.

The next generation Commodore will come to Australia from Germany in March 2018.

Unlike all other Commodores over the past 39 years there will not be a V8; it will have a choice of four-cylinder or V6 power.

The loss of the homegrown Commodore means Holden will be without a V8 in its showrooms for the first time since 1968, when the first Monaro went on sale.

However, Holden plans to import the Chevrolet Camaro V8 as a rival to the Ford Mustang by the end of next year, ahead of the Corvette sports car due in 2020.

This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling

Topics:  cars editors picks elizabeth factory holden manufacturing



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