As we now know, the Australian-assembled Holden Cruze will die a year ahead of schedule, before the end of 2016.
As such, local versions of Holden’s unloved small car will stop rolling down the Elizabeth production line in South Australia 12-months before the plant shuts, and takes the Commodore, Caprice and Ute with it.
In contrast to the feelings of some, the premature end of the Aussie Cruze is a shame to me. I think Holden, and its General Motors parent, deserve wholesale credit for being bold enough to execute local production of a locally made small car.
As the dust settles, you’ll find a few people out there hurling pejoratives at the Cruze as it rolls towards Death Row, including our own founder. ’It was never good enough’, they say. ‘Never stood a chance’.
And there’s some truth there. The Cruze at its core is an old design, and a flawed one against the brilliance of the Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf.
No amount of retro-applied Australian design (as on the ill-proportioned hatch) or local suspension tuning (an inspired addition that actually made the car good to drive) could hide that.
The simple fact was, despite some good turbo engines, lots of space and features and decent ride and handling, private punters ignored the Cruze, dubbing it uncool. As did user-choosers from the evolving fleet market.
On the other side of the coin, large-scale fleets ignored it too, despite the patriotic pull of choosing local. Many of those mandated to buy Australian-made opted for the ultra-discounted Toyota Camry, which is larger but not a vast sum pricier.
As such, sales declined markedly since 2012, the first full year of sales after local assembly began. The numbers went from 29,161 units that year, to 15,222 in 2015. Cruze sales halved over the course of four years, while sales in the small car segment as a whole dropped about 10 per cent.
In total, Elizabeth made about 125,000 Cruze models.
But all this doesn’t mean the failed experiment is ill-deserving of plaudits. How many times have you heard someone waffling on that Australian car-makers failed because they didn’t make cars people actually wanted?
According to these ‘experts’, Holden and Ford (less so Toyota) were not quick enough to divest themselves from big, thirsty sedans in the Commodore and Falcon. While sales figures on the former, which remains a top-ten player, put the lie to this, there’s another layer.
Regardless of the veracity of the just-mentioned argument, Holden did do what these people wanted, in making something smaller and more efficient than a Commodore.
And while its product was flawed and ultimately a flop, kudos to it for making the move anyway.
Ford Australia wanted to make the Focus, but never got final sign-off. Toyota hasn’t made the Corolla here in years. When Cruze production began in Australia in 2011, Holden answered the criticisms head on, and had something local in Australia's single largest segment.
And that’s really where the credit lies. Holden failed, but good on GM for trying. Credit where it’s due, please.
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