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Holden ‘totally confident’ on Astra sales leap

Welcome return: Pre-launch interest has been strong for the new-generation Astra, which officially goes on sale on December 1.

Reborn Astra expected to take Holden ‘right to the top’ of crucial small-car segment

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Holden logo8 Nov 2016

GM HOLDEN is banking on the strong heritage of the Astra nameplate in Australia to ensure the new-generation imported hatch becomes one of the brand’s core models and returns to the top of the small-car sales chart.

Launched in Canberra this week, the latest version of GM’s European-sourced small car officially goes on sale on December 1, but the company has made sure there will be enough examples in the country to ensure every dealership has at least one Astra for demonstrator purposes.

While Holden introduced the three-door Astra Sport range midway through last year at the end of the outgoing model’s lifecycle, the arrival of the all-new five-door will finally give the car-maker the ammunition it needs to take on the likes of the Mazda3, Volkswagen Golf and top-selling Toyota Corolla.

Following the end of production last month, Holden will run out of stock of its current offering, the ageing Australian-built Cruze sedan and hatch, by the end of the year.

The Cruze was instantly popular when it launched back in 2009 and was one of the best-selling cars in the segment. But it has subsequently slipped down the sales chart and was outsold by all the major players – including Hyundai’s i30 and, to the end of October this year, the Kia Cerato.

While Holden is not divulging sales targets, Holden general manager of product marketing Ben Lasry said in a presentation this week that the company was “totally confident that the Astra will propel Holden right to the top of the pointy small-car segment”.

If Astra returns to near the top of the small-car sales charts – a feat the TS Astra from 1998 achieved – it would mean an annual haul of more than 30,000 sales.

Last year, the Cruze managed only around half that – 15,222.

In an interview with GoAuto, Holden executive director of sales Peter Keley was coy on sales targets but highlighted the importance of the Astra in the company’ s expanding line-up.

“At the end of the day, Astra is playing in a large segment of the Australian car market,” he said. “It is important to Holden that we do well in that segment. We are not looking to be just selling handfuls of cars. The Astra name and the Astra product will be an important part of our volume base as we go forward.” Mr Keley said the 30-year heritage of the Astra moniker in Australia would ensure strong demand for the Polish-built hatchback.

“The Astra nameplate has huge recognition. And it is held in a very positive light. When we launched the three-door (last year), a lot of people came in, actually really celebrating, because they thought the five-door Astra was back – they didn’t realise it was a three-door,” he said.

“There has been an extensive pre-launch campaign. We know customer demand is there, we are just waiting for it to hit the showroom floors basically to confirm their (buyers’) thoughts and opinions.” Mr Keley said Holden’s marketing campaign, which included television commercials where potential buyers were asked to identify the brand behind a de-badged Astra, had been a success and “generated enquiry”. But he was quiet on pre-launch order numbers.

He added that Holden was not expecting buyers to be confused by the fact that the Astra was also sold previously under Opel’s short-lived time in the Australian market, with a premium over small-car rivals.

“I don’t think so. Astra has always been associated with the Holden name. It goes back decades. There is a very strong tie. It is just business as usual as the consumer would see it,” he said.

The Astra will once again become one of Holden’s core models, Mr Keley said, alongside some familiar and new nameplates.

“You will see that the Holden volume will be made up of a number of car lines, all within a band of volume. Astra, Commodore, Colorado, and then we move into Equinox,” he said.

“That will be the backbone of the Holden volume line-up and then we will have additional variants to cover the other segments of the Australian marketplace. We have already talked about Acadia, Trax. Four higher-volume cars, then supplemented by the next level.” Mr Keley added that despite low sales of the three-door Astra Sport since its launch, the company was satisfied with its role in the line-up.

“The role of that car really was to reaffirm to people that post our manufacturing announcements, Holden was here to stay and was going to continue to bring out great, stylish products,” he said.

“It was a niche market so it was never going to be a high-volume seller for us and it was really around the image and what it was saying about Holden’s commitment to the market.” The Astra Sport will continue to be built in Europe and sold in Australia alongside the new-generation five-door hatch in 2017, until a new high-performance version becomes available to take its place.

The buyer set for the Astra will be diverse and includes people considering a Cruze, former Holden buyers returning to the brand and people looking at the more premium contenders in the mainstream segment.

“The Astra price range will overlap where the Cruze was originally positioned. Are our target cars Mazda3 and (Volkswagen) Golf? Yes. That’s where we do see we can get sales from,” Mr Keley said.

“When you put brand name and Astra together you will see a return of some previous Holden loyalists who, for whatever reason, have left us but will now come back to us because of what we are offering.” Mr Keley would not comment on any potential future Astra variants, including a VXR hot hatch, wagon body style or a sedan, but as GoAuto has reported, Holden is expected to sell the new-generation Korean-sourced Cruze sedan alongside the Astra in the coming years.

The Astra is part of Holden’s plan to introduce 24 new or refreshed models to its line-up by 2020. Other models include the new Colorado and Trailblazer, Spark, updated Barina and Trax, and the Acadia and Equinox SUVs.

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