Holden New Zealand

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Holden New Zealand
IndustryAutomotive industry
Founded4 January 1926; 93 years ago (1926-01-04)
Key people
Kristian Aquilina
(Managing director)
OwnerGeneral Motors
Number of employees
36 (July 2016)
ParentGeneral Motors Holdings LLC, 3000 Renaissance Center, Detroit, Michigan, USA

Holden New Zealand Limited, named until 1994 as General Motors New Zealand Limited, is a subsidiary of General Motors of Detroit and distributes General Motors' motor vehicles, engines, components and parts in New Zealand. Its Buick, Chevrolet, Oakland, Oldsmobile and Cadillac brands were all well-established before the first World War.

This company was incorporated on 4 January 1926 to build and operate a local assembly plant, General Motors' first owned not leased overseas plant. Its popular cars, including British Vauxhalls, remained common household brands until well after the second World War. Postwar British sourced Vauxhalls continued to keep the plant running together with limited numbers (restricted by currency shortages) of Chevrolets. In the late 1950s the Vauxhall and the now expansive Chevrolet and Pontiac cars began to be replaced with Australian sourced Holden vehicles supplemented by the smallest Vauxhalls and Holdens and the move to the Holden brand was completed in the 1970s.

The assembly of vehicles ended in 1990 and since then the business has been distribution of complete imported vehicles and spare parts.

Assembly plants[edit]

The Petone assembly plant opened in 1926 and the first New Zealand assembled Chevrolet appeared on 31 August that year. Four months later their first Pontiac was assembled and Buicks followed a month after that. Oldsmobiles were added to the range in 1928. Vauxhalls first came off the line on 9 May 1931 and they were soon followed by Bedford trucks. The plant was expanded in 1938 and again in 1939 and production diversified to include Frigidaire refrigerators and freezers, Frigidaire's parent company was owned by GM from 1919 to 1979. By the outbreak of war in 1939 there were almost six acres under one roof. Wartime output included munitions and Universal Carriers as well as many other smaller products. Post war Chevrolet production began in early 1947 but for some decades new car numbers were severely limited by government controls.[1]

Although from March 1980 it made all the spark plugs for General Motors' production in Australia as well as New Zealand the Petone plant was sold in September 1984 to improve overall business efficiency.[1]

The Trentham assembly plant at the inland opposite end of the Hutt Valley was opened on 26 August 1967 by the Prime Minister of New Zealand Keith Holyoake and the Petone plant devoted to Frigidaire appliances. At this time, the company had almost one million square feet of floor space, situated on three (Petone and Trentham: assembly/manufacturing plants; Upper Hutt: parts, and later, assembly, warehouse and office facilities) properties in the Hutt Valley totaling 117 acres (0.47 km2). In 1990, General Motors New Zealand announced its decision to phase out local assembly of passenger cars. In 2015, the former Trentham plant was sold to Weta Digital, while existing space is used by the New Zealand Army.[2]


General Motors New Zealand assembled and imported GM products from Vauxhall, Bedford, Chevrolet, Buick, Isuzu, Pontiac and Opel were sold as well.

However, for such a small market, it made little sense to have so many brands, so each was rationalized from the 1960s. Chevrolet and Pontiac had effectively disappeared from the market by the 1970s, though there were still Chevrolet trucks from the US and a top-end Holden Statesman with a Chevrolet V8 engine, known as the Chevrolet 350. Vauxhall's full line-up was pared back to the Chevette and Viva by 1977 as Holden's range expanded to include mid-sized cars (the Torana and Sunbird). Isuzu (selling the Gemini) and Vauxhall (with the last Chevette) disappeared on the launch of the Holden Gemini TE series in 1981, while Bedford met its demise with the assembly of the last CF vans in 1984.

As 1983 began, Holden began fielding something close to a full range: the Gemini as the entry-level car, the Camira as the mid-sized one, and the Commodore in the large sector. All ranges had sedan and wagon variants (the Gemini also had a van version), and each lineup included sporting and luxury versions.

However, the Australian GM J Car based Holden Camira (JB series) fared so badly due to quality problems in New Zealand that local GM bosses decided to replace it with the GM J car based Isuzu Aska (or JJ) from Japan. This was known as the JJ Camira, and proved to be much better than its Australian-sourced predecessor. The Isuzu-based model survived until Holden introduced the ultimate Camira, the JE, which made it across the Tasman Sea in 1987.

As the 1980s continued and Holden's future became uncertain, General Motors New Zealand pondered the reintroduction of other GM brands. In around 1985, there were strong rumours, and a GM report, that indicated that Holden would cease to exist in its current form, and that its models would be exclusively designed offshore. Certainly what was happening in Australia did not instil confidence: rebadged Suzukis, Nissans and Isuzus were occupying the bottom end of the range, while the Commodore was about to shift to a Japanese-designed three L engine.

Therefore, Opel made a small reintroduction with a tiny selection of highly priced models (Kadett GSE, Ascona GT, Senator, Monza) of European origin. Research showed that Pontiac had a good reputation, so rather than follow the Australian route with a rebadged Toyota Corolla, in 1984 GM New Zealand brought in the Opel Kadett-based LeMans from Daewoo of South Korea, attempting to fill both the compact and mid-sized sectors until the arrival of the Opel Vectra. As in other countries, it was badged as the Pontiac LeMans. Despite the car's origins and place of manufacture, it was marketed in New Zealand as 'American', only for the reason of the well-known fact of the Pontiac name being American.

In the late 1980s, General Motors New Zealand attempted to use many makes and have "GM" as the main brand. Therefore, the mainstream range in 1989 consisted of:

Commercial vehicles were branded as Isuzu.

General Motors New Zealand's marketing strategy created little brand loyalty and consumers did not accept 'GM' as a brand, probably due to the multiple brands on offer.

Name change[edit]

From 1994, with Holden's future starting to look more secure, General Motors New Zealand changed name to Holden New Zealand.

The Opel name was dropped, and the Vectra was rebadged as a Holden, even though it was (at the time) not available in Australia. The Astra was introduced the following year, branded as a Holden even though identical Opel-badged models imported second hand from Japan were already being sold locally.

Early models of the Holden Astra and Vectra in New Zealand differed from those sold in Australia, in that they had a distinctive grille with a 'V' containing the Holden badge, similar to that used by Vauxhall in the UK. Later on this was changed to bring the New Zealand model range in line with Australia.

Similarly, the Isuzu Trooper off-road vehicle was rebadged the Holden Jackaroo, as in Australia, although owing to the widespread availability of the identical Isuzu Bighorn as a used Japanese import, that name was used on brand new models imported by Holden New Zealand. This policy of rebadging the Isuzu Trooper under another General Motors brand name was used by Opel and Vauxhall in Europe and Asia with the Vauxhall/Opel Monterey and in Latin America as the Chevrolet Trooper

For a short period between early 1998 and late 1999, the Holden Frontera was sold new in New Zealand as the Isuzu Wizard, although this range is now semi-identical to Holden Australia's line-up.

Differences between Holden Australia and Holden New Zealand[edit]

There are still differences between the Holden model ranges in Australia and New Zealand. It was only in August 2005 that the wagon version of the Holden Astra went on sale in Australia, while in New Zealand, the Astra wagon was not available until June 2008, like the Zafira in 2004. The Tigra was also released in Australia but not sold in New Zealand. Due to the large number of second-hand Japanese imports into New Zealand such Holden vehicles sold in Australia only as Holdens can also be seen on New Zealand roads as their international equivalents such as the Chevrolet Optra which was the Holden Viva in Australia, or the 2002-2006 Suzuki Ignis-derived Chevrolet Cruze.

As of July 2016, the range of vehicles sold in Australia and New Zealand has been unified, with both markets selling the Korean sourced Holden Barina, the Australian assembled Holden Cruze (production finished on 7 October 2016) and the European sourced Holden Astra small cars. Holden sells the European built Holden Cascada convertible and Holden Commodore.


  1. ^ a b Heart of Holden Heritage accessed 1 February 2018
  2. ^ Colin Williams (18 November 2015). "Upper Hutt's former car assembly plant sold to Weta film group". Dominion Post.

External links[edit]