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Holden commits to fleet customers

Business sense: GM Holden chairman and managing director Mark Bernhard believes the new 304kW V8 in the VF Series II Commodore could help attract more fleet buyers to the brand.

Both private and fleet buyers are a priority for Holden: Bernhard

15 Sep 2015

GM HOLDEN will not follow Ford Australia’s lead in prioritising private sales over fleet buyers, with the company’s new chief confident of continued strong sales from business customers.

Speaking with GoAuto at the VF Series II Commodore reveal on the weekend, new GM Holden chairman and managing director Mark Bernhard said the car-maker was committed to its fleet customers, and suggested that the new 304kW/570Nm V8 that powers some variants could in fact boost interest from business buyers.

“We are always focused on private buyers, but the market is made up of fleet buyers as well as private buyers, and we need to focus on both,” he said.

“We value the relationships we have with our large fleets, we work very, very closely with them. The engine we have got here can help us with some of those fleets as well.” Key executives from Ford Australia, including new president and CEO Graeme Whickman, have previously stated that the company is actively chasing private sales instead of large fleet deals, as they believe it is a better long-term brand-building strategy.

Mr Bernhard acknowledged that the number of brands on offer in Australia’s diverse new-car market makes attracting customers to the brand a challenge, but highlighted the company’s future product line-up and customer service initiatives as ways of appealing to consumers.

“It is very challenging there is no question,” he said. “But you see that in part of our marketing campaigns now trying to appeal to a different audience, and then look after them with the right levels of customer experience and customer service, that they can stay with us and be loyal and have the same passion around the Holden product that we all have.

“And even the product portfolio you will see is starting to evolve to appeal to a different demographic than just the Commodore demographic. The Commodore demographic is very, very important to us, but as are other segments. As the market continues to fragment there are a lot of different customers out there.”

Mr Bernhard was reluctant to discuss Holden’s sales targets, but told GoAuto that the priority was to get the house in order and hopefully sales will come from that.

“From a volume standpoint, we are probably more focused on fundamentals of the business around customer experience, getting our product portfolio right and the brand. And the sales will be an output of us executing really well against those three priorities.”

So far this year, Holden is tracking 9.3 per cent behind the same time last year with 67,502, after ending 2014 on 106,092, itself a 5.3 per cent loss compared with 2013.

With most mainstream car-makers focusing on improving customer and aftersales service, Mr Bernhard acknowledged that while Holden has made some gains, it needs to be constantly looking at ways to better its performance.

“We have the largest capped-price servicing program in the country, which is going really well for us and we have the highest levels of service retention we have ever had,” he said.

“But with customer experience, you can never stand still. The competition is not standing still and we have got to continue to improve our customer service.

If we do everything we have to do today, in a year’s time we will have to do more than that.” In terms of the factory shutdown by the end of 2017, Mr Bernhard said it was too early to announce the final date of production, as Ford did last week.

“At this stage, it is too early for us to be thinking about. We do need to think about it. Is it a year away? Is it a bit after that? We will work through that process over the coming couple of years.”

The Port Melbourne engine plant is set to close its doors for good by the end of 2016, while the Elizabeth, South Australia production line will cease in late 2017.

Ford Australia announced last week that its final day of production at the Broadmeadows, Victoria plant will be October 7, 2016.

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