Holden’s crucial next move

SHUT UP SHOP AND SELL CHEVROLETS. IS THIS THE FUTURE FOR THE BRAND THAT ONCE HAD AUSTRALIA’S CAR-BUYING PUBLIC EATING OUT OF THE PALM OF ITS HAND?

TOBY HAGON

QUESTIONS ARE again being raised about the viability of Holden following the announcement the Commodore would be killed off. By the end of 2020, Holden will be without a large car, something that has defined the brand since it produced the first Australian-made car in 1948.

Speak to industry experts and analysts, and many quietly say it’s only a matter of time until the lion brand is killed off altogether. If it is, it would be the latest in a long list of brands shelved by parent company General Motors. They include Oldsmobile, Hummer, Pontiac, Saab and Saturn.

Social commentator and the principal of The Strategy Planning Group, David Chalke, says it all comes down to product.

“At the moment they don’t have anything in their range that anybody really wants,” says Chalke. “Without them producing ripsnorting SUVs and sports cars in the future, I can’t see where they’re going to go.”

One option could be to use the Chevrolet name, which has good cut-through with many Asian buyers and some believe is a way for General Motors to “reinvent themselves”, along with a smaller dealer network more akin to the current market share.

In a statement, Holden reiterated there are “no plans to introduce Chevrolet to the Australian market”.

Then there’s the dealer network. One person we spoke to with close dealer connections said many Holden dealers were beyond anger and frustration.

“The dealers are just putting their hands in the air, they don’t really know what to do … the current cars don’t have a lot of traction in the market.”

Holden says it will focus on SUVs and utes, the two segments that are booming. Utes now make up 20 percent of new car sales. SUVs are 45 percent and growing.

The challenge for Holden is getting on buyers’ consideration list. Of the 443,512 SUVs sold in the first 11 months of 2019, Holden accounted for just 3.2 percent. Its share in the boom segment is lower than its overall market share.

Holden’s problem is that its line-up of SUVs is nothing special, selling more on price than excellence. Where it will source product capable of halting its decline is among the many questions.

Despite GM not selling volume vehicles in any other right-hand-drive markets, Holden says, “GM makes decisions based

han Whereas Holden has previously spruiked the arrival of a long list of models, things have gone quiet recently. A replacement for the Colorado won’t come until 2022 at the earliest, so Holden’s top seller must soldier on against intense competition and soon-to-be-replaced rivals.

Some of Holden’s SUVs are good, but not great, and there’s been little word from the company as to what to expect next. All of which is adding to the sense that Holden’s days may be numbered.

If there’s one positive to be taken out of the latest debacle, it’s that Holden has sharpened its focus. The imminent death of the Commodore has unshackled the once-dominant Australian car maker from an unloved and underwhelming car that was distracting dealers and head office from the main game: the growth in SUVs.

If there’s one positive to be taken out of the latest debacle, it’s that Holden has sharpened its focus

Whereas previously Holden could craft its own path, now it’s in the hands of its American parent.

That said, Holden has proven it can sell imported cars: Astra, Barina, Captiva, Rodeo and more have all previously been successful.

Predictably, Holden says the brand is here to stay, but recent history suggests promises can be broken.

In 2013, Holden committed to manufacturing a new-generation Commodore by 2017 before changing its mind by the end of the year.

And the deceit about the Commodore staying - just a week before Holden announced it would kill it - hardly instils confidence in the messaging.

Ultimately, the decision will be made at GM headquarters in Detroit.

When you’re looking at markets the size of China and America, the challenges of rebuilding a struggling Australia-specific brand in a tiny global market would surely not get much time at the boardroom table.

TOBY HAGON

Blinkered Holden took eyes off road

THE WHEELS POSITION

The death of the Commodore is the latest example of Holden misreading the market. From the outset the company was intent on ramming home why the Opel-made Commodore was better than the Aussie one that ended manufacturing in November 2017. We were told of how the optional all-wheel-drive system improved performance and handling and how the base four-cylinder was faster than the V6 it replaced. But while trying to shove the imported Commodore into an Australian hole it was never going to fit snugly into, Holden ignored the real potential: stealing sales from the Camry and using the wagon bodystyle to tempt fence-sitting families out of SUVs. The ZB Commodore was a tough sell from day one. Things only got tougher.