Holden closure ends Aussie auto industry

 

The Australian car manufacturing industry is no more.

Holden on Friday rolled its last Commodore off the assembly line, ending almost 70 years of vehicle production in Australia and more than 50 at its Elizabeth facilities in Adelaide's north.

It's demise as a car maker follows similar shutdowns by Mitsubishi in 2008, Ford last year and Toyota earlier this month, with the local industry succumbing to changing market conditions and global economic pressures.

Hundreds of workers were on hand to mark the occasion, amid feelings of both sadness and pride. Dozens of Holden tragics gathered outside, paying tribute to the brand they loved.

Managing director Mark Bernhard thanked the workers "from the bottom of my heart" and said theirs was a special place in the Holden legacy.

"Today is about paying tribute to the generations of men and women across Holden and our supplier network who have given so much to our company," he said.

"Holden is the icon it is today only because of these passionate people."

About 955 workers stayed to the end and many said it was important to them to see the last car built.

Assembly line worker Andy Reade said his time at Holden had been a "fantastic journey" and everyone who worked for the company had great passion and love for the product.

"To stay to the end was just commitment, loyalty," he said.

"We didn't want somebody else to build that last car. I wanted to build it."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull acknowledged the closure of Holden was a sad day for the country, but believed the improving economy would allow most workers to find new jobs.

"You can't get away from the emotional response to the closure," he said.

Mr Turnbull also pointed to what Holden said was the "perfect storm" of economic factors which contributed to its decision in 2013 to quit local production, including a persistently high Australian dollar, increasing costs, a small domestic market and intense global competition.

However, the union described the coalition government's decision to end financial support for car producers as the crucial issue and the "greatest betrayal of blue-collar workers". It warned that many of those finishing on Friday would struggle to find new positions.

Premier Jay Weatherill also described the closure as a "massive" hit to the South Australian economy.

Estimates put SA job losses at about 2500 directly related to the Holden shutdown, including workers from the auto components sector.

AMWU state secretary John Camillo said some would find other full-time work, some part-time or casual positions, and others would be forced to retire.

"And that's the tragedy about what's happening today," he said.

"When those doors close at Holden, the car industry will close forever."

But Holden said 85 per cent of the 738 workers who left Elizabeth before Friday's closure are in new jobs, study or retirement, and believed there would be a similar result with those who stayed to the end.

Across seven decades of building cars in Australia, Holden produced almost 7.7 million cars, the largest of any of the local manufacturers, including 2.3 million Commodores.

Before its closure in 2016 Ford had produced 5.9 million vehicles, and Toyota's tally had reached 3.4 million when it locked the gates on his Melbourne manufacturing operations two weeks ago.