Holden cars and dealerships could be rebadged as Chevrolet once General Motors shuts its Australian manufacturing operations in 2017.
Holden has secretly been fighting to protect the Australian icon from extinction for the past decade, say company insiders.
But the switch to selling only imported cars — all of which are already sold as Chevrolets overseas — means the iconic Holden badge faces its biggest threat to date.
Holden boss Mike Devereux last night told News Corp Australia: “Holden is here to stay. Holden has been a part of Australia’s past … and it will part of its future for decades to come.”
“We are committed to the brand for the long term. The brand is going to be a part of the fabric of this country for a very long time.
“There is no plan other than to feed this iconic brand with world-class cars for decades to come.”
However, General Motors headquarters in Detroit wanted to kill the Holden nameplate during the Global Financial Crisis, along with the Hummer and Pontiac brands, but the then boss of Holden Mark Reuss fought against it.
“There will now be the biggest fight ever to save the Holden brand from being shelved,” a Holden insider told News Corp Australia.
“Every time there is a new boss of Holden or a new head of General Motors, the question is asked, ‘Why do we still have the Holden brand in Australia?’.
“Now that (Holden) won’t be making cars and there won’t be anything unique about the vehicles, the debate is going to come up again and it will be hard to win. There will be massive implications for the brand.”
By remaining an orphan brand, Holden misses out on global Chevrolet marketing campaigns, such as the $600 million seven-year sponsorship deal with superstar soccer team Manchester United.
The closure of Holden’s test track and the sacking of hundreds of engineers means that future imported Holdens will not be uniquely tuned for Australian driving conditions.
One insider said the switch to Chevrolet could happen if General Motors believes the Holden brand image has been damaged by the shutdown of its factories.
“There is no emotion in this,” he said. “It will all come down to money. If General Motors thinks sales will go down because the Holden brand is on the nose, then they will switch it to Chevrolet.”
News Corp Australia understands it would cost between $500,000 and $1 million to rebrand each of its 233 dealerships nationwide, and that General Motors would foot half the bill for each showroom, forcing Holden dealers to pick up the rest of the tab or lose the franchise.
One insider revealed that Holden has been forced to conduct exhaustive research with Australian car buyers to prove the case to Detroit that the Holden brand is worth saving.
“The amount of money we’ve spent trying to defend the Holden brand to Detroit is ridiculous,” he said.
“But when executives from North America come out to Australia, they take photos of Chevrolet badges that people have fitted to their Holden utes, and use that against us.”
The last time Holden won the argument with Detroit to save the proud Lion badge, it got a stay of execution because Holden agreed to “soften” its image and focus on technology.
However, since then, Holden has announced multi-million-dollar sponsorship deals in the AFL and NRL football codes.
“Holden made a promise to General Motors that it would try to modernise the brand because it has a bogan image,” the source said.
“That’s why the (Chevrolet) Volt is being sold as a Holden, even though Holden is losing $1 million a year on it,” he said.
With a price tag of $60,000 for an electric car the same size as a $20,000 Toyota Corolla, Holden has sold fewer than 200 Volts since it went on sale in Australia last year.
Mr Devereux insists the cars will continue to be sold as Holdens once the company becomes solely an importer of vehicles.
But Mr Devereux will not be responsible for that decision by 2017; he starts his new international role for General Motors next February.
“Holden is committed to this country … we expect we will be a thriving brand in this country for many years to come,” he said during the announcement of the factory shutdowns.
The original Holden “lion and stone wheel” logo was created by sculptor Rayner Hoff in 1928, before GM brought the saddlery turned body builder in 1948.
The logo was a tribute to the prehistoric fable that lions rolling stones led to the invention of the wheel.
The Holden lion badge has changed only three times since 1928: in 1948 at the launch of the first General Motors Holden car, in 1972 to coincide with the launch of the HQ Kingswood, (which went on to become the biggest selling Holden of all time), and in 1994 as Holden ramped up its marketing push for the Commodore to reclaim top-seller status from the Ford Falcon.