The German-built Commodore failed to make an impact in the local market. Picture: Thomas Wielecki.
The German-built Commodore failed to make an impact in the local market. Picture: Thomas Wielecki.

Why Holden had to dump Commodore

It may not have been the beloved Kingswood but the Commodore has been a huge part of Australian popular culture since its launch back in 1978.

For almost four decades, it was the go-to car for Australian families.

At its peak in 1998, nothing could touch it, not even its arch rival, the Ford Falcon.

Locally built in Holden's Elizabeth plant in South Australia, it was a working class hero on wheels.

But the mantle began to slip as buyer tastes shifted first to hatchbacks then to SUVs and utes.

In the decade between 2002 and 2012, sales slumped from almost 90,000 a year to just over 30,000.

In its heyday the Commodore was untouchable. Picture: Supplied.
In its heyday the Commodore was untouchable. Picture: Supplied.

In 2011, its lost its crown as Australia's favourite car to the Mazda3. It had been our No. 1 seller for 15 years but the writing was on the wall. In 2013, Holden announced it would discontinue local manufacturing in 2017.

The goodwill the Commodore had built up over decades was no longer translating into sales and the end was sad but inevitable.

The company's attempt to keep the name alive with a new model imported from Germany made sense in a lot of ways. It was cheaper to launch a new Commodore than it was to introduce a new nameplate in a large sedan market that was withering on the vine.

And after all, the original Commodore was designed and engineered in Germany before being shipped out to Australia in crates.

The Commodore launched to much fanfare in 1978. Photo: Supplied
The Commodore launched to much fanfare in 1978. Photo: Supplied

 

Had it been called the Insignia - the car's name in Germany - it would still have flopped.

But despite the logic, the decision alienated the Holden heartland.

It was seen as an insult to the badge by rusted-on Commodore fans who grew up cheering it at Bathurst every year.

The Kerrigans were proud Commodore owners. Picture: The Castle / Supplied
The Kerrigans were proud Commodore owners. Picture: The Castle / Supplied

They felt cheated and called BS. It was all over the fan forums and social media.

Holden's strength had suddenly become its weakness. It was a brand that sold on its Australian-ness. Punters bought a Korean-made SUV with a Holden badge on it because they wanted to stay loyal.

But once the spell was broken, the badge lost its lustre.

The final 2017 VF Commodore sedan coming down the final line at the Holden Elizabeth factory. Pictured are employees Lisa Hutchinson and Andrew Wyett. Credit: Randy Larcombe
The final 2017 VF Commodore sedan coming down the final line at the Holden Elizabeth factory. Pictured are employees Lisa Hutchinson and Andrew Wyett. Credit: Randy Larcombe

It mattered not that the imported version was safer, more technologically advanced and more efficient than its Aussie predecessor. It was doomed from the start.

In its announcement today, Holden rightly pointed out that the market has shifted from sedans and hatchbacks to SUVs and utes. And it's not the only carmaker to pivot in that direction. Mitsubishi and Nissan sell very few regular "cars".

Some call it progress, others call it a tragedy but the fact is the Commodore's time was up.

The question now is whether Holden will be the same without it.

Richard Blackburn is News Corp Australia News360's national motoring editor.


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