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Holden starts shift to tech-focused future

Future proof: Programs such as OnStar and Maven Gig (left) will help usher Holden into a new era, according to company chairman Mark Bernhard.

Post-manufacturing future to include customer and connectivity focus for Holden

Holden logo5 Dec 2017

By TIM NICHOLSON

HOLDEN chairman and managing director Mark Bernhard says the company is resetting following the closure of its manufacturing operations in October, with a renewed focus on customer service and support, its engineering and design capabilities and emerging technologies.

The General Motors-owned brand has also announced an investment in its Lang Lang proving ground south of Melbourne, as well as confirming the co-investment into its refreshed dealer network that started to roll out last month.

Speaking with journalists at the media launch of the Equinox SUV last week, Mr Bernhard said it was an “exciting time to be involved in the industry”, and added that GM’s transition to a mobility company would put Holden in a strong position in Australia.

“Our focus starts with customers and how we can serve them,” he said. “So as we look forward, some of the things we need to look at – connectivity we’re heading down a path towards a promise of personal mobility solutions.

“The industry is going to look very, very different over the coming years, and probably the best place to start as we think about that is with General Motors, because what they’re doing in GM is a guide to our own future.

“GM’s a changing company. We get to leverage that in everything that they’re working on. We get to choose product from a portfolio of brands and choose the right product for Australia. We get to leverage their technology, and we’ve started that with OnStar coming in a few years. Starting with Maven, the Maven Gig program.

“So there’s things that we’re already taking advantage of, so we’re not waiting for another three-to-four years we’ve started. You look at some of the headlines in the media in the US. (GM chairman and CEO) Mary Barra talking about more change in the next five years than the last 50 years.

“That’s just not product, that’s just not technology, it’s the way we look after customers, as well. It’s the whole customer experience.”

As reported, OnStar uses a global positioning system (GPS) and a mobile phone connection to offer emergency, security and navigation connections and vehicle manager services by subscription, and will initially be offered on the Equinox from 2019 before being rolled out across the model range.

Maven Gig, meanwhile, is essentially a leasing program for drivers of ride-sharing operations such as Uber.

Mr Bernhard said a strong product range was also crucial in building the Holden brand, and highlighted the quality of the latest batch of models, as well as the local engineering team’s efforts in adapting GM product to better suit Australian conditions.

“The products are the best we’ve seen at Holden for a long, long time. Each one delivers and exceeds expectations, pushes the boundaries of what people expect, not just from Holden but from mainstream brands in general,” he said.

“That engineering team, it’s one of the real strengths of Holden. They take those best cars from General Motors and they tune them to Australian conditions for Australian drivers, making the performance and driveability exceptional.”

Following the Equinox into showrooms will be the new-generation Commodore – the first imported Commodore since the nameplate was introduced in 1978 – that will launch with all variants, including the high-riding Tourer wagon and spicy VXR liftback, in February next year.

Mr Bernhard denied that consumers were confused about what the Holden brand stood for following the closure of manufacturing, and said buyers understood that the company was about more than just manufacturing.

“I think we are very quickly getting past that,” he said. “There was probably a little bit of confusion over the last four years. But I think people understand that Holden is here and Holden is no different from any other brand from an import perspective.

“We are unique, we think, with our design and engineering teams locally we do know Australians and Australian driving conditions better than anyone else. So we think we still hold a unique place in Australians’ hearts and minds.

“I think people are going past manufacturing now. When they see new signage in dealerships and things like that and new messaging coming out from us, I think that just reinforces and that will help to build the whole momentum.”

Mr Bernhard said a number of initiatives were already having an impact on customers’ perception of Holden when it comes to customer and aftersales service.

“We’re looking after them (customers) better than we ever have. Capped-price servicing programs, take-your-time test drive programs, our customer care team.

They’re in-sourced at headquarters and power the team to look after customers, and it’s not just us saying it anymore. External industry surveys reinforce our own data,” he said.

“Purchase satisfaction has moved from number seven to number two in the industry. There’s only one brand ahead of us now in purchase satisfaction.

Service satisfaction has moved from 14 to six, a massive improvement in service satisfaction as well.

“We’ve obviously got more work to do and the bar is always moving in looking after customers, but our customer experience strategy is working, and customers are starting to feel the improvements.”

In the JD Power 2017 Australia Customer Service Index (CSI) study released last week, Holden recorded a 20-point improvement over its 2016 result which placed it above the industry standard and ahead of Toyota.

As GoAuto has reported, Holden showed off its new ‘Dealership of the Future’ corporate identity early last month, with Brisbane’s North Lakes site the first retail outlet in the country to feature the new look, with the Holden dealership in Warrnambool in Victoria’s south-west getting a makeover at the same time.

All up the co-investment between Holden and its dealer network will be upwards of $150 million and with more new-look sites rolling out before the end of the year, Holden predicts that as many as 10 dealerships will be rebranded each month next year.

In June, Holden confirmed a cull of its dealer network, and GoAuto understands that as of January next year, the network will have about 200 outlets, down from 230.

As well as new exteriors, Holden’s updated dealerships will have new internal and external signage, concierge services, upskilled sales teams, an airport lounge style layout, the latest technology in the showroom including big LED screens to help customers to visualise and choose cars and a boutique Nespresso cafe experience with pod recycling and collection points.

Holden has also confirmed that it is resurfacing the circular track at its Lang Lang proving ground at a cost of $7 million. GM has already committed to investing $8.7 million in a new emissions testing lab at the Victorian facility.

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