Holden’s US parent company General Motors yesterday announced it would retire the iconic Holden brand and close down its Australian operations, with about 600 employees set to lose their jobs.
Following the shock announcement, Federal Industry Minister Karen Andrews called Ford’s Australia and New Zealand president and chief executive, Kay Hart.
“She indicated very clearly to me that Ford is as committed as ever to Australia and that they continue to invest here,” Ms Andrews said.
“She didn’t give a never-ending commitment and I would not expect that from her.
“I asked that we kept in touch and she’s agreed to that.”
Ms Andrews said Ford, formerly Holden’s major rival in Australia, also appeared open to the possibility of recruiting some of those facing job losses at Holden.
Both Holden and Ford ended their manufacturing operations in Australia several years ago.
But Ford remains Australia’s largest automotive employer. It has more than 2,000 engineers, designers and technical and automotive specialists working across four sites in Victoria.
The company said it had a further $500 million worth of investment planned in Australia for this year.
Ms Hart said the displaced Holden workers may find opportunities at Ford.
“We have such a big design and engineering team here in Australia,” Ms Hart said.
“We are hiring at the moment and I’m sure that there’s some great talent in that Holden team.
“So we would definitely be looking, in terms of if that skill set did fit with us.”
Ms Hart said Ford also remained “firmly committed” to its operations in Australia.
“From a Ford Australia standpoint, we have a great model line-up here,” Ms Hart said.
“We have one of the top-selling vehicles in the Ford Ranger, that is designed and engineered right here in Australia and doing so well for us.
“We have a great range of products that seem to really resonate with our customers here, which is such an important part for us.”
Automotive industry under pressure to shore up US operations
But the director of the Australian Industrial Transformation Institute at Flinders University, John Spoehr, said the Holden brand may be a casualty of the Trump era.
“The automotive industry is a global industry that has tended to draw the best skills and capabilities from different parts of the world including Australia,” he said.
“I think US-based automotive companies are under enormous pressure to deliver to the US Government to re-shore jobs to the US where they’ve got plants based in other nations.”
Ms Hart acknowledged that, as with the Holden experience, long-term decisions about the future of the company would be made by Ford’s parent company in the United States.
“As a company, we will make that decision in terms of what is right for the corporation globally,” she said.
“But at the moment, the Ford Motor Company is extremely committed to Australia.”
Motoring journalist Toby Hagon put it bluntly.
“As much as Ford is saying ‘we are here to stay’, it was only a week ago that Holden was saying the same thing,” he said.