Holden dealers are counting down the days until signs displaying the well-known lion logo that established the brand as an Australian icon are removed.
Most in WA signed off on General Motors’ compensation offer after a long legal stoush, with the Australian Holden Dealer Council alleging the Detroit-based auto giant wasn’t negotiating in good faith as 120 dealers nationwide accepted the GM exit package presented just days after the February announcement Holden would cease operations.
The current payout was roughly $1500 per car over two-and-a-half years — the remaining franchise term, which in the past had normally rolled over for another five years — based on 2019 sales figures, plus additional amounts for showroom and facility upgrades.
It’s the second — and final — stage in the death of Holden, the first in early 2017 when GM decided it wouldn’t renew 30 dealer agreements across Australia.
This included City Motors in Newcastle Street, which closed, and Youngs Holden in Victoria Park which was rebranded under the same ownership as Youngs WA and now sells used cars.
It is understood the compensation paid to dealers at the time was very small and a fraction of what was offered this time around.
Industry insiders believe at least one dealer in WA may still be in negotiations with GM over the current payout, as a group over east weighs up a class action for fairer compensation through automotive legal specialists HWL Ebsworth.
“Action has not yet commenced … it’s being contemplated,” HWL lead partner Evan Stents told WestWHEELS.
It is understood some dealers in WA signed off on the compo deal under duress, not knowing if any Holden service and parts agreement with GM would be jeopardised if they did not.
The ACCC continues to investigate whether GM engaged in “unconscionable” conduct in the process leading to the compensation deal being presented to dealerships.
As things stand, the next six months will see dealerships — some more than 50 years old — rebrand, relocate or simply shut up shop.
Holden’s local design and engineering operations will close by next year, while the Maven and Holden Financial Services operations would also wind down in Australia.
As part of its exit, the ACCC says GM has proposed a transition package including a Holden service operations agreement.
For many dealers, such as Fennessy Holden in Busselton, it’s a lifetime’s work on the line as they reposition themselves to move forward.
“We’ve been here since 1962,” owner Ray Mountney said.
“In fact, Fennessy’s Garage has been operating in Busselton since before the Second World War.
“I’ve owned it for 22 years, predominantly as a Holden dealership with a secondary Nissan franchise, and bought it from the Fennessy family who started the business.
“This is a very common rural Australian position. My dad was also a Holden dealer, so I grew up with the brand and spent 25 years working my way up to partner in a large, metropolitan Holden dealership.
“There’s massive financial, emotional and community investment that goes into a business like this.”
Mr Fennessy said Holden had about an 18 per cent market share nationally when he bought the business — and a 22 per cent market share in Busselton because of the strength and focus of the Fennessy name.
“Since then, that market share, quite independently of anything we did, declined and was struggling to get more than 5-6 per cent take up — and that’s across the board.
“My way of dealing with it was to find more volume somewhere else, so that’s when I bought another dealership — Ford and Nissan — in Manjimup that’s run by my son Adam, who’s a very capable trained technician.”
Phoenix Motors managing director Mark Lawrence said the dealership — formerly Phoenix Holden — still had about 10 Holdens as it restocked with other brands moving forward.
The business would consist of used cars under the Phoenix Motors umbrella and new cars trading as Wanneroo Haval, Wanneroo Great Wall and Wanneroo SsangYong.
Mr Lawrence joined the dealership as service manager the day it opened on March 17, 1979, and became general manager three years later.
He bought a share of the company in 1987.
Up until 2018 he drove Holdens, his last a white SS V Redline VF — and his 94-year-old mother still gets around in a Barina.
Shacks Motor Group managing director Jodi Kerr, who drives an Astra, was optimistic about the future and grateful for what she described as a “long and fruitful” relationship with Holden over 86 years.
Shacks will partner with GM Special Vehicles to continue selling imported performance vehicles and pick-ups.
The site on Queen Victoria Street in Fremantle has been on the market for over a year, earmarked for retail, hotel and residential apartment redevelopment with a “residual lease to the dealership until it relocates”, according to the real estate sales pitch.
Ms Kerr said Shacks would retain its GMSV presence in Rockingham alongside a new Volkswagen outlet from August 1. There was also a Mazda dealership on site.
“We’ve got a really strong Holden customer base and we will continue that with our service and warranty commitments in both locations,” Ms Kerr said.
“That was a really big decision for us.”
Holden dealerships are changing. Some, such as Gibbons Automotive — formerly Gibbons Holden, in Gosnells — and Phoenix Motors (formerly Phoenix Holden) have already changed names.
Others declined to comment.
So far, we’re told:
Brian Gardner Holden in Cannington is now Gardner Autos, specialising in new Isuzus, Suzukis, used cars and continuing with GM speciality vehicles.
Clarkson Holden is negotiating with other manufacturers for a new franchise, so a name change is imminent, but there has also been a Hyundai dealership on site for three years.
Goldy Holden and Suzuki, in Midland, was renamed Midland Mitsubishi and Suzuki late last year.
Melville Holden is part of Melville Motors, which includes Nissan and Suzuki dealerships. A spokesperson said Melville Holden was committed to its service and parts operation.
North City Holden’s showroom in Osborne Park is empty, with Holden stock and servicing moved to Paceway Mitsubishi up the road. It does not plan to restock any HSVs.
Shacks Fremantle and Rockingham will continue with GM speciality vehicles, adding a VW outlet to Rockingham.