The Early Years
Prior to the establishment of General Motors New Zealand Limited, GM vehicles were imported directly from the United States by dealers under a franchise agreement with the General Motors Export Company - a merchandising organisation set up in 1911 to sell all GM products outside of the United States and Canada.
General Motors New Zealand Limited (in 1994 renamed Holden New Zealand Limited) was incorporated as a company on January 4, 1926. Land was purchased at Petone (in Wellington's Hutt Valley area) and a contract for the erection of a plant - specifically designed for the assembly of motor vehicles and the first overseas plant in General Motors Corporation owned premises rather than leased facilities - was let on January 28, 1926. Some seven months later - on August 31, 1926, the complex (the first automotive assembly plant in New Zealand) of some 136,000 square feet was opened, staff totalled 250 and the first New Zealand assembled car - a 1926 four cylinder Chevrolet Sedan, was unveiled.
Four months after the Chevrolet, the first Pontiac was assembled and a month later, the first Buick. The first milestone for the Petone plant came in April 1927, with the production of the 1,000th vehicle - considering that cars were largely hand assembled, the feat takes on new proportions.
Oldsmobile assembly commenced in 1928 and a year later, a total of 12,000 vehicles had been built at the plant. During the intervening three years, staff numbers had increased to 500.
An important development in the plant's life was the commencement of assembly of Vauxhall cars from England. The first - a VX model, came off the assembly line on May 9, 1931. Shortly thereafter, a range of Bedford trucks went into assembly.
The tenth anniversary celebrations in 1936 proved a highlight of the years of rapid growth - the plant having assembled during that period a total of 37,575 vehicles.
To continue to produce those ever increasing numbers of vehicles, an additional 45,000 square feet of factory space was added. The added space also allowed for diversification and in 1938, the production of Frigidaire refrigerators and freezers began. Total number of plant staff had now increased to 760.
Further plant expansion took place in 1939, with an additional 80,000 square feet being added. The total floor area of the factory and storage areas now totalled over six acres under the one roof - almost double that of the original plant. Further purchases of land were also made, taking the total owned by the company to 12.5 acres.
With the advent of the war, the factory was converted to munitions production and for the next six years, a host of products and by-products were manufactured to aid the war effort.
Most significant of these items were the 1,100 Bren Gun carriers which were made almost totally from components made in New Zealand. In addition, 900 war damaged army trucks were reconditioned and sent back into service.
Smaller items manufactured included over half a million 2 and 3 inch mortar bomb casings and covers, and thousands of radio and battery boxes. The company was also given responsibility for the supervision of other munitions contracts.
Following the war, peacetime production resumed but times were difficult. Due to continuing import restrictions, supplies were short. It was not until early 1947 that the first post-war Chevrolet rolled off the assembly lines - a long-awaited event in the eyes of a car-hungry New Zealand public. Later, but in the same year, total production of vehicles from the plant had reached 74,946 units.
In 1949, a vitreous enameling plant was installed for the Frigidaire Division of the company, while from 1951 onwards, the plant again underwent a series of expansion moves and highlights. In that year, 25 years of operation was celebrated. During this period, almost 97,000 cars and 27,000 Frigidaire household and commercial appliances had been sold.
1952 saw a need for further expansion with 60,000 square feet of factory space being added to cater for increased Frigidaire appliance production. The year also saw the 100,000th vehicle assembled - a Vauxhall Series E, and the decision made to purchase a 12-acre site in Upper Hutt (also in Wellington's Hutt Valley area). This land was ultimately used for an office and warehouse complex for the company's Non-Vehicle Products Department.
Holden cars - in built-up form - were introduced to New Zealand in 1954 and went into assembly at Petone three years later. The first New Zealand assembled model was an FE Series model, the 142,061st vehicle built by the plant.
The period from 1954 to 1957 saw the installation of a second enameling oven for Frigidaire products, and a new paint system was commissioned enabling faster and better standards of lacquer to be applied to vehicles. At that time, the plant was the most modern in the Southern Hemisphere.
The next nine years in the company's development saw a succession of new models being introduced for an ever-increasing car-hungry public. Among these were the Chevrolet Bel Air, Pontiac (after an interval of 20 years) and the FB, EH and HD series Holdens, while in 1964 the first spark plug manufacturing plant in New Zealand was opened by the Hon. N. L. Shelton, Member of Parliament and Minister of Customs. Literally millions of AC plugs were produced - many being exported to overseas markets.
Although the opening of the Petone Plant in 1926 was a milestone in New Zealand's industrial history, so too must the occasion of the opening of the new Trentham (also in Wellington's Hutt Valley area) assembly plant on August 26, 1967 by the Rt. Hon. K. J. Holyoake, Prime Minister of the day. 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 warehouse and office facilities) properties in the Hutt Valley totaling 117 acres. Total investment at the three plant locations in buildings, equipment and inventory at that time amounted to $55 million or $27,500 for every employee (2000).
With the opening of the Trentham plant, the Petone facility concentrated on Frigidaire production and the low volume assembly of commercial vehicles (Bedford Vans and Holden Utes), manufacture of spark plugs and oil filters; and axle tube assemblies solely for export to Australia.
The new Vauxhall Viva and Holden HQ series were introduced (built at Trentham) circa 1971, while 1972 saw the assembly of the 350,000th vehicle and the introduction of Isuzu trucks.
1973 sees the commencement of the manufacture of Frigidaire clothes washers and dryers in the Petone plant.
In 1976 the company celebrates its 50th anniversary - total production of vehicles in the 50-year span totaling around 430,000 units.
In 1977, a major development in the component export area came with the establishment of an axle tube section, this process manufacturing all the axle tubes for General Motors-Holden's (in Australia) Salisbury type rear axle assembly.
Following General Motors Corporation's sale of Frigidaire world wide, Frigidaire appliance manufacture ceased at Petone in 1979, prompting a re-evaluation of the facility. A refurbishment programme was started in 1980 that included rebuilding the exterior walls of the main plant, building new offices and a new cafeteria, and moving the whole operation into one building.
In March 1980, the spark plug manufacturing section was expanded to supply General Motors-Holden's in Australia and General Motors New Zealand's needs, followed in 1982 by expansion of the oil filter manufacturing facilities to also supply the requirements of both companies.
17 May, 1982 marks the assembly of the 500,000th - a 4-cylinder Holden Commodore SLX Sedan - vehicle by General Motors in New Zealand.
On November 23, 1983 the company announces its decision to close the Petone plant sometime in 1984 - the low volume assembly activity, where practicable, being transferred to Trentham. The main reason for this decision being the need for the company to improve upon the unsatisfactory results achieved in recent years. While improvements in efficiency had already been made, the adverse profit results still being experienced necessitated a rationalisation of the company's activities with a view to making its mainline operation of vehicle assembly and distribution more viable. Employment at Petone at this time stands at 277.
April 17, 1984 marks the day of the announcement by General Motors New Zealand Limited of the sale of its plant and land at Petone - comprising some 12.5 acres - in September that year. The complex being developed for use by ASC Flowers Transport Limited (an Owens Group company) as a warehouse, container storage/repair and distribution centre.
Subsequently, part of it (plant and machinery remains in place within the CKD building) being let (by The Owens Group) to Brugger Industries Limited to commence manufacturing - including automotive components from early 1985.
The last Bedford Van to be built at General Motors' Petone plant - on 15 August, 1984 - brought to an end a significant era in the history of New Zealand's motor vehicle assembly industry. The cessation of the axle tube assembly operation at the plant takes place in that month also.
1985 marks the introduction of the first real small car sold by General Motors in New Zealand - the Holden Barina. This vehicle, also known as the Suzuki Swift, was also built - at the Trentham plant - under contract for Suzuki New Zealand Limited. The Nissan Navara is also built - again under contract - but not until 1986.
Completely knocked down (CKD) assembly of the Holden Camira and Barina ends in 1989.
April 26, 1990 marks the announcement of the decision to phase out local assembly of passenger cars when, as a result of the government's Motor Vehicle Industry Plan, a zero rate of duty became applicable on CKD vehicles and for CBU (completely built up) vehicles (other than those from Australia - where General Motors sourced most of its vehicles from) to incur 35% import duty to protect the CKD assemblers.
Total vehicles assembled (at both the Petone and Trentham plants) to 21 November 1990 - 593,945. The last car - driven off the Trentham production line by Mr. Noel Manthel who was an employee at Petone in 1926 (Mr. Manthel had a lifelong association with General Motors through the Manthel Motors Dealerships in the Wellington and Hutt Valley areas) when General Motors assembled its very first vehicle - being a 3.8 litre V6 Holden Commodore.
June 1991 sees General Motors' Railway Avenue, Upper Hutt facility closed with all operations being consolidated on the company's Trentham site. The facility was subsequently sold to South Pacific Tyres New Zealand Limited (Dunlop's).
In a move aimed at reducing customer confusion about its various brands, General Motors New Zealand Limited changed its name to Holden New Zealand Limited on July 14, 1994.
On 9 July, 1998 the company announced its decision to move its head office from its long established site in Trentham to Auckland. This would include all vehicle sales and marketing activities, all aftersales functions that handle dealer and customer service, parts sales and merchandising as well as finance and accounting.
The parts warehouse - relocated (from Railway Avenue, Upper Hutt) to the Trentham site in 1991 - together with associated distribution functions, would be contracted out (announced in May 1999 to Linfox Logistics (NZ) Limited) and is expected to remain at that location for an unspecified time.
Recent events such as the removal of vehicle tariffs, other vehicle assemblers ceasing assembly and the removal of the prohibition on parallel imports were cited as key factors in the relocation.
With all major vehicle brands now importing on a level playing field, the importance of restructuring the company was thought essential to ensure Holden had the lowest distribution and operating costs, so that product pricing would continue to represent the best overall value for money in the industry. The restructuring and move to Auckland, a location of within two hours drive of where approximately 50% of vehicles sold in New Zealand takes place, will assist the company to consolidate its position in the industry.
June 30, 1999 marks the last day of head office operations for Holden New Zealand Limited at Trentham. The plant was purchased in February 1999 by a Christchurch based property developer.
Today, Holden New Zealand Limited still has some association with its former Trentham assembly plant site. This, through vehicle storage and distribution, Holden Certified used vehicle refurbishment and parts and accessories warehousing - all managed or sub contracted out by the new owner of the site: Trent General Management Limited.
Travel through Holden's history in Australia, tracing its evolution from a humble leather and saddlery business to one of the nation's largest manufacturers today. 1856 Begins as J.A Holden & Co, saddlery business, Adelaide, South Australia
1913 Produces complete motorcycle sidecar bodies
1914 Produces its first complete custom-made car body
1917 Commences large-scale production of car bodies
1918 Holden & Frost sets up Holden's Motor Body Builders (HMBB)
1924 Opens Woodville, South Australia - most modern production line in Australia
1924 Woodville sole local body supplier for GM vehicles
1925 Produces first closed bodied type cars
1925 Becomes biggest bodybuilding operation outside North America, Continental Europe
1926 General Motors Australia (GMA) is formed
1928 'Lion-and-stone' emblem first used
1931 Merge of GMA and HMBB to General Motors-Holden's
1934 Produces first coupe-utility
1936 New headquarters, Fishermens Bend, Melbourne
1939 Vauxhall 14 J-Type. Its first unitary construction car
1942 First Australian company to mass-produce internal combustion engines including Gypsy Major aeroplane, Gray Marine, and a 4-cylinder radial torpedo
1945 Responds to Australian Federal Government invitation to produce an Australian car
1948 Launch of Australia's first locally manufactured car by Prime Minister Ben Chifley
1953 May. Produces its 100,000th Holden, a 48-215(FX)
1956 January. Produces its 250,000th Holden, an FJ
1957 Produces first Holden station wagon, based on FE sedan
1957 Produces its 1 millionth car body
1957 Operations begin at Lang Lang Proving Ground
1958 October. Produces its 500,000th Holden, an FC
1962 Produces 1 millionth Holden, an EJ
1966 Australian safety first. Fits seat belts on all models
1967 Launches first small Holden, the Torana
1967 Exports its 100,000th Holden
1968 Introduces HK range including Australia's first sports coupe, HK Monaro
1968 Introduces energy-absorbing steering column to Australia
1969 Opens first Australian automotive safety design test centre at Lang Lang Proving Ground, Victoria
1969 Exhibits first Australian-made V8 - the Holden Hurricane experimental car
1969 Produces its 2 millionth Holden, an HT
1974 Produces its 3 millionth Holden, an HJ
1978 October. Launches its first Commodore, the VB
1981 Sir Laurence Hartnett drives 4 millionth Holden, a VC Commodore, off the line
1983 Builds its 200,000th engine, and exports its 250,000th by year's end
1991 VN Commodore retains title of Australia's most popular car
1992 Australian safety first. Introduces anti-lock brakes (ABS)
1993 Australian safety first. Introduces driver airbag system
1994 Unveils new corporate identity under single banner of 'Holden'
1994 VR Commodore tops passenger car market
1995 Introduces new 3800 ECOTEC V6 engine
1997 Launches all new VT Commodore - wins Wheels Car of the Year
1998 Anniversary celebrations to commemorate 50 years since the launch of 'Australia's Own Car' - the 48-215