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ZB Commodore: Holden goes after new and old buyers

Drive time: Holden has thrown the keys of its new German baby to a dozen Commodore buyers and social media sceptics and influencers as part of the new model’s marketing campaign.

Holden to ramp up marketing campaign for new Commodore after factory closure

Holden logo29 Aug 2017

By TIM NICHOLSON

HOLDEN has put existing Commodore owners, social media influencers and even sceptics behind the wheel of its forthcoming ZB Commodore as it ramps up its marketing campaign and pitches the new-generation import as a fitting replacement for the locally built sedan and wagon range that has been an Australian favourite for nearly 40 years.

The German-built Commodore is based on the latest Opel/Vauxhall Insignia and will be the first front- and all-wheel drive imported car to carry the nameplate when it rolls into Australian dealerships in February next year.

As part of its 18-month-long marketing campaign for the new Commodore, Holden opened the gates of its Lang Lang proving ground south-east of Melbourne last week to give 12 potential customers the opportunity to sample the liftback and Sportwagon range, six months ahead of the official on-sale date.

GM Holden director of communications Sean Poppitt told GoAuto that the company was keen to put traditional Commodore buyers behind the wheel of the new car to experience it for themselves and make an informed judgement, as the lion brand fights the perception from some fans and customers that it is not a “real” Commodore.

“We are already talking to them and that is customers we know about that we have had long-term relationships with through dealerships, people that are very active in our social media channels, people that have shown interest in it and people that have bagged it to be honest as well, and we want to get them down and let them drive it,” Mr Poppitt told GoAuto at a separate media drive event for the new Commodore.

Mr Poppitt confirmed that “a dozen current and prospective customers” were at the proving ground last Thursday, putting V6 all-wheel-drive and four-cylinder front-wheel-drive versions of the Commodore through its paces on the same drive route we had covered two days earlier.

He added that Holden would hold a number of customer events for the Commodore and emphasised that the new Supercar series, in which Holden will compete, would also be an important marketing opportunity.

“I think there are obviously a few other things we can do in terms of surprises, but the big thing for us is getting people into the car, getting people to understand it,” he said.

Mr Poppitt acknowledged that it will be a challenge to win over some of Holden’s more hardcore fans who are sceptical about an imported Commodore, but talked up the capabilities of the imported model, particularly compared with the fundamentally different Australian-built VFII that it will replace.

“I think there are some people that just aren’t going to come on the journey and that is obviously not what we want but that is okay,” he said. “We understand the passion that is there. For us, it is trying not to get people to make a judgement before they have driven the car.

“Sit in the car, because by any measure, our 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder Commodore is a better car than the base V6 current-generation car. It is faster, more fuel efficient, it’s more responsive, it’s lighter, it’s got better technology. What it isn’t is built here. We are just encouraging people to drive before you try or drive before you type.”

Mr Poppitt said the new V6-powered Commodore should meet the expectations of consumers concerned about the loss of the V8 variants with the ZB version.

“Historically, if you look at sales over last 10 years, 80 per cent has been the V6 model, with historically less than 12 per cent being V8. The discrepancy in those numbers is it is actually almost 80 per cent that has been SV6 in terms of private sales, so that is where the market has been and the V8 has given that a halo,” he said.

“If you look at the next-generation V6 model, it fulfils all of those wants and needs from people. And for those people that are really interested in sports and performance, we do have the mysterious and much-vaunted sportscar, or cars, coming which fulfils a different type of need.”

As well as appealing to traditional Holden and Commodore buyers, Mr Poppitt said the car-maker must attract new buyers with the new model, but added that it was not anticipating the same annual sales volume that Holden experienced with the outgoing VF series.

“We don’t expect the same level of sales for this new model as we did with the previous one but that is the same across the board. We are very conscious about not relying on one model,” he said.

“You need strengths across a few different categories, so Colorado has come along really nicely for us. We would like to see some more strength in Astra, that is probably the one area we need to focus even harder on.

“Obviously, we have got Equinox coming in, so if you have got strength in a few good SUVs, strength in Colorado, you have got a solid small car (Astra), then Commodore can be the icing on the cake so to speak.”

Mr Poppitt said the technological advances of the new Commodore, the new powertrain and new body styles should also help draw the attention of buyers who may have not considered a Commodore in the past.

“In terms of it addressing and talking to a new audience, we have never had a diesel Commodore before and we have never had a high-riding Tourer. And that SUV/crossover is a little niche that is not massive volume but very popular in this country, plus we have got a wagon,” he said.

“Don’t forget there are people that currently would not look at a Commodore because they might see it as old tech or old school and the new 2.0-litre turbo with all of its tech opens it up to a slightly different market as well.

“So will the numbers be the same? No. I am not going to talk about specific targets, but suffice to say we don’t expect the same level of sales, but we do expect to talk to a broader base because we have got a broader model range. So liftback, wagon, Tourer, 2.0-litre turbo, all-wheel drive, diesel, you have a better proliferation to talk to a different market.”

Mr Poppitt said the 18-month marketing campaign has already begun, with two engineering media drives, as well as the first customer prelaunch drive already completed, with more activities planned for later this year and early in 2018 ahead of the late-February launch.

He added that the prelaunch marketing for the Commodore would not ramp up until after the closure of Holden’s Australian manufacturing operations on October 20 this year.

“It’s got to start afterwards. We want to be very respectful of that. You are not going to see stories about the closure of manufacturing and then banners about a new Commodore running on the same page,” he said.

“We need to be respectful of the people and its impact and legacy. We will have a respectful period then we will be full steam ahead.”

While Holden has used pop-up stores in shopping centres in the past to promote new models such as the Spark, Astra and facelifted Trax, Mr Poppitt said it was unlikely that it would use this strategy for the Commodore, before adding: “We’ve definitely got a few tricks and plans up our sleeve.”

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