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Holden hangs tough with struggling Commodore

Time heals: Holden’s new chief Dave Buttner says he senses a change in tone – from negative to more positive comments – from media and consumers about the imported Commodore.

New Holden chief says Commodore remains a ‘huge focus’ as lion brand rebuilds

16 Oct 2018

NEW GM Holden chairman and managing director Dave Buttner has expressed his strong support for the Commodore in the face of tumbling sales and market share, saying that it is far too soon to write off the imported large car.


Speaking to GoAuto at the launch of the all-new Acadia SUV in Melbourne this week, Mr Buttner denied that the axe may already be hanging over the fully imported ZB Commodore, revealing that instead there are now great opportunities for every model in the range to thrive once the brand returns to better health as a result of a fresh strategy being implemented.


“We can’t deny the changing face of the marketplace,” he said. “It’s far too early for me to comment on the future portfolio, but (is Commodore) a focus? It’s a huge focus.


“In my first 60 days in the role, I wanted to understand where peoples’ heads are at in relation to the brand, and we’ve started to develop the mid- to long-term strategic plan.


“And currently a lot of people have got a lot of ideas in terms of what our volume should be in the future, but to me the volume will only be driven by having a really robust business plan – a strategic plan that underpins everything that we do – and we’ve started that work.


“Of course, part of that discussion will be a portfolio that meets the needs of the Australian consumer into the future. And I certainly don’t want to go discounting any product until we finish this work that we need to do.”

Left: GM Holden chairman and managing director Dave Buttner

When Holden launched the ZB Commodore in February, the company admitted sales this year would struggle to match the career-low 23,676 units achieved by the Australian-built VFII last year. To the end of September, Commodore sales – which include the last remnants of local production – are down 57.6 per cent year-on-year to just 7295 units.


Holden’s overall sales have fallen 27.1 per cent this year after the company posted one of its lowest September results on record – 4651 units, down 32.4 per cent on the corresponding month last year – which left it in 10th place with a 4.9 per cent share of the market.


While Mr Buttner noted that only a few hundred sales separated fifth from 10th, he admitted: “We are nowhere near where we need to be as a brand in terms of our sales and share. We have a lot of work to do. In July, we had a 4.6 per cent share, in August a 4.6 per cent share and in September it was 4.9 per cent.


“In this competitive marketplace of Australia, the difference between being 10th and fifth was 500 units. It was a pretty tight month.”


According to Mr Buttner, the Australian media and public backlash against Commodore with its switch from Australian production to German sourcing – via Opel, which is now part of the PSA Group – is showing encouraging signs of softening.


However, the lack of any suitable replacement for the iconic big-power V8 rear-drive sports sedan versions of the VFII means that a sizeable part of the old fanbase will never accept a front/all-wheel-drive Commodore.


“My sense is that, for a certain part of the Commodore faithful, it will be difficult to move on,” he said. “When you consider that 30 per cent of the buyers were V8 buyers, they’re probably the ones that may find it the hardest to move on.


“But people are starting to understand the quality and the value of the product … slowly I’m sensing the tonality of the comments change, and the comments of journalists change as they spend more time with the vehicle and experience the vehicle.


“Initially a few articles were mainly negative, but I’m starting to see some positive articles come out now. And that certainly helps the brand. When people start speaking positively about your product, people may be more (open to it).”


As the former Toyota Australia president outlined when he began in his new position at Holden on August 1, priority number one is to get back on consumer shopping lists.


“The key issue is the awareness of our product is not as high as it needs to be, and awareness leads to consideration,” he said this week. “If we’re not on the consideration set, then there’s not enquiry going through your dealerships, front door, website or phone.


“So we have a lot of work to do really to tell people who we are, what we stand for and what products we’ve got in our portfolio. And that’s really our first step to recovering our volume and share back to a level that makes us a viable business in the marketplace.


“If you haven’t got resonance with the consumer, and people don’t understand who you are and what you stand for, then it is very difficult to get on the consideration set. And we are going to work very, very hard on that over the next few months.


“It’s not just about an advertising and marketing campaign, albeit that’s important. You have to do everything that surrounds the brand to the best of your absolute ability and get the confidence of your customers.


“There is still a lot of trust out there towards the brand, but also some confusion.


“We need to clarify some things in our own minds to be quite honest, and once we do that, we need to make sure that we clearly articulate to our potential customers who we are, what we stand for, and go about to delivering on our promise. Because to me, that is the secret to success.”

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