It's been one long con -- and the Holden saga is still throwing up a dust cloud as we spin our wheels over the cultural shock of the carmaker's exit.
Perspective on the issue is forming. Firstly, political commitment to subsidising car production has been a spectacular failure. Secondly, the "Aussie icon" imagery is a mirage. And thirdly, the coming shockwaves from job losses in the next four years is a gross over-statement.
Let’s start with the third perspective. In 2010 Holden said its move to a new small car platform to run alongside Commodore production would stem the slow erosion of jobs at Holden. In 2009, Holden employed more than 3200 people at its Elizabeth plant in Adelaide. It now employs 1670, so the level of job losses at Holden due in the progressive closure in the next four years has actually occurred in the previous four years. While there has been an increase in unemployment in South Australia in the last two years, most of those Holden lost jobs appear to have been absorbed into the economy with few micro-economic shock waves.
The second perspective is the cultural one. The Detroit-based owners of Holden have been playing the Aussie imagery for years, and much of it has been based on similar American nationalism campaigns. As Holden boss Mike Devereux said in 2010, Holden’s Aussie-ness is just a bit of ol’ American apple pie. When he sat down for a chat with local media, he asked about the culinary notion of a party pie (which the PR staff had laid out as Holden’s thrifty lunch item). He was proudly told by one of the motoring writers that the pie, like the Holden, was part of Australian culture.
"The jingle was football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars," said the proud Aussie hack. Devereux recognised the jingle immediately. "Was that your version of baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet?" he asked.
It turned out the Aussie Holden jingle imprinted on our psyche was an old ad for the General Motors Chevrolet; it was conceived in 1974 and a couple of years later, re-written for use Down Under ...