Holden’s new future, warts and all

Holden SUV

What to expect from Holden with a new import-only future.

“It’s time to change.” That was the crux of a frank and open internal assessment of Holden as it embarks on a massive marketing campaign designed to reposition the brand that currently has its lowest market share in 68 years of building cars in Australia.

The quintessentially Australian brand is set to go through the biggest change in its history as it transitions from Australia’s first and most influential car maker to one that from 2018 simply falls into line with the 60-odd import-only brands fighting for a slice of 1.2 million sales.

In its quest to become the “most caring and trusted car company in Australia” and one that attracts “new customers for life” Holden chairman and managing director Mark Bernhard acknowledged some of the failures and immense challenges of a brand fighting for survival; quality hasn’t always been where it needed to be; Holden hasn’t always offered the right cars for Australia; and Holden has sometimes focused on enthusiasts and loyalists at the expense of others.

Despite having the biggest dealer network in the country – totalling 230 – Holden sales account for just 8.0 percent of the market in 2016, less than half that of the top seller, Toyota.

Holden -Spark“We need to redefine what Holden stands for,” said Bernhard in a media briefing at the company’s Port Melbourne head offices.

“For 70 years Holden has been defined by local manufacturing and locally built vehicles. That has to change. Our challenge is to redefine what Holden means in Australia and recapture our relevance.”

At the same time Bernhard acknowledged the long and diverse history of Holden, which started in 1856 with a saddlery company and in 1948 evolved into a manufacturer of Australia’s original own car, the Holden 48-215.

“We also have a 160-year history in this country [first as a saddlery and eventually a car maker], which we’re very proud of, but we need to evolve if we’re to flourish,” said Bernhard.

Key to the fresh sales pitch is an influx of new models, which has already kicked off with the heavily revised Colorado ute as well as the Spark city car, the first of 24 new models promised by 2020.

Holden also committed to five new or updated models by January 2017; an updated Barina, updated Trax, updated Trailblazer (formerly Colorado 7), new Astra and a replacement for the Captiva, expected to be called Equinox.

Holden -Arcadia -seven -seat -SUVHolden also confirmed the Acadia seven-seat SUV for 2018, a car likely to appeal to families who previously bought Commodores.

Bernhard said by 2020 Holden will have its most diverse product portfolio, replacing the ageing models that have lingered as a result the new model trickle that slowed when its parent company, General Motors, applied for bankruptcy in 2009 as a result of the global financial crisis.

“We’re going to have more vehicles in more segments than we’ve ever had before,” he said. “Our opportunity with product is huge.

“We are in a unique position to pick and choose the best vehicles from General Motors; the best cars from Europe, the best cars from the US and the best cars from Asia.”

Bernhard said part of the challenge would be reconnecting with the Australians that have turned away from the brand over more than a decade.

“Holden has deep connections into Australian communities. We’re a big part of the history of this country, but we need to show today’s Australia who we are, what we stand for and why they should buy Holden products and services.”

Holden -Astra -sideBernhard referred to the imminent shutdown of manufacturing as Holden’s “biggest challenge”, and one that continues to make many Australians think the brand is disappearing with it.

It starts next month with the October 7 wind down of Cruze manufacturing. Phase two is in December, with confirmation the Port Melbourne engine plant will close, while the final phase is the closure of the Elizabeth production line – and local Holden Commodore production – late in 2017.

Beyond that the Holden brand will continue, but for the first time there won’t be an Australian Holden in the lineup.

As for topping the sales charts - something Holden has done for most of its life and something that was a stated goal two years ago - Bernhard says the brand will not play the “discount game” to atrract big volumes.

“Holden’s success is not purely about market share; yes, it’s still a big factor … but we’re not blindly chasing market share.

“Number one in market share or sales is not the measure of success.”

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  • When the Acadia gets here it will be outdated already by superior Kia & Hyundai vehicles, The huge chrome grille is a bit crass1
  • Ditch the Holden name and start from scratch. Holden is dead after the manufacturing in Australia finishes. Still no word on a "STAR" car for the V8 fans. If your going to buy a imported car, buy a good one something Japanese or European made. I'll never sell my old Holden. Still going strong 52 years later. You will not see an imported Holden last 52 years.
  • @JP Agree. Taking down the Holden sign and replacing with GM... Then marketing and selling vehicles under their own brand, would make most sense. Opel, Chev, Cadillac... Much more compelling than on sticking a Holden badge.
  • @daVE I took our 2009 VW Passat in for its 105k service, they found a fault and immediately called and offered us a replacement car without charge until they were satisfied with the repairs. Upon return I noticed a small scratch on the drivers door which they took responsibility for. Upon returning our car for the door they had a new Passat wagon ready for us and after 4 days called and asked me to bring it back as they had a newer car for us to drive, it had 145km on the clock. We've now had this car for a week. Their advice to us was to drive as much as we wanted and enjoy it. Couldn't be happier with the way they have treated us.
  • Nothing worth owning from Holden anymore. They're all rubbish. Barina,Cruze, craptiva, Astra,,,,,,,,,, all crap cars. Close the Holden name, unless they're actually Aussie built cars for Aussies.
  • That badge swap on the grill of the Acadia is an incredibly lazy piece of design.
  • The beginning of the end for Holden was the introduction of the Cruze and Craptiva, probably the worst cars sold in this country. The Commodore had it's faults but was basically a good car. When Commodore production stops they will have nothing to offer They have only themselves to blame
  • I own a VF Commodore and if I needed to sell it I won't by an SUV.
  • @Krusty I don't agree with you at all on that statement. I had a BA, a FG and now the FGX and by far the FGX is the best ever built Falcon no question and I should know!
  • If Ford can improve the quality of some of its auto gear boxes, Ford will destroy Holden post manufacture. There is little point in basing your future over a big car that will not sell in any of the numbers required. Ford's choice of the Mondeo to replace the Falcon with a few Mustang sales seem to be getting the market right. Recent sales figures for the Hyundai I30 show just how important pricing of vehicles is in Australia at the moment
  • @Cryzla I have bought 3 new Holdens in my lifetime so far and only 1 new Ford. I too was a Towie and Car Carrier driver. The Fords of today are far lesser of a car than the new BA that I had. As for my VF Commodore, for a base model, it's better than some Euro cars. I know!
  • They should sell the name to an Australian (or Indian or Chinese) company, that can start to be local cars again. Without GM influence. So Holden Auto Works or such, local owned, local shares etc etc. GM is now just a bit player importer, no different to Proton or Futon. Dealers will close, unless GM brings in its real cars like Buick, Caddy, Chev. Holden name will be a liability not an asset. UNLESS it is an AUSTRALIAN HOLDEN, then there maybe some hope. Goodbye GM Holden......
  • They need to ditch the “Holden” brand. Holden is supposed to sell cars designed for Australian conditions to Australians, not rebadge a hodge podge of GM “world cars” (that’s what Chevrolet is for). The marketing and branding team will disappear into a wormhole trying to repurpose the “Holden” brand while somehow distinguishing it from Chevrolet.
  • I have never bought a Holden and never will. I was a tow truck operator for over 20 years So I should know.
  • They'll want to sort out their dealers service ethics. At a time when Ford are offering loan cars with a logbook service, my friendly Holden dealer want s to charge me $69.00 for a loan car for a day while they fix a warranty fault the second time on my Commodore. Not a good look.