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Holden V8 not ‘guaranteed’ as HSV products questioned

Return to sender: Holden’s V8 sportscar program could hinge on the execution of its standard product line-up including the Astra nameplate, and upcoming Equinox SUV.

Small car, pick-up and SUV range must be executed well before Holden V8 return

Holden logo20 Jun 2017

HOLDEN executive director of marketing Mark Harland has revealed that he believes the brand must execute its small car, SUV and pick-up product strategy successfully to make V8 sportscar discussions with General Motors (GM) easier.

Speaking with GoAuto at the national media launch of the Astra sedan in northern New South Wales last week, Mr Harland – who has notched up six months in the role – insisted that the unnamed V8 sportscar was still in planning, but Holden must achieve other targets first.

That included, he listed, making successes from Astra small hatchback and sedan, Equinox medium SUV and Colorado pick-up ranges.

“Certainly from a product point of view, you know the product line-up, where the growth is in Australia is obviously in the SUVs, the small- to medium-sized SUVs,” Mr Harland said.

“If we can execute on the upcoming product launches, I think that gives us a lot of credibility with the senior leadership back in Detroit so that our managing director, Mark Bernhard, can say, ‘Hey, we really think we’d like to have a rear-wheel-drive V8 as a halo car.’“I think if we could execute all of that (new products) then we go back to the mothership, to General Motors corporate, and say, ‘We think a halo rear-wheel-drive car of some kind makes a lot of sense and it delivers a return on investment and it helps lift the brand’.

“(But) there’s nothing that we can announce at this point. There’s nothing guaranteed.” Asked whether that meant the mysterious sportscar – announced at the Detroit motor show in January 2015 as a replacement for the Commodore V8 – was now paused, Mr Harland replied: “I wouldn't say it’s on pause.”“I would say, yes, there is still appetite with obviously guys like Mark Reuss (former Holden managing director and current GM president) and some of the senior leadership that have been here,” he added.

“They understand there is a need for that kind of vehicle. I don’t think there’s anything on pause, but I don’t think we can narrow down a day or a year or I don’t think we can get that granular level of detail until we’ve executed our business plan and then, it just makes all those conversations much easier.

“If, say, we got to do the job on Astra sedan, on next-generation Commodore, Equinox as well, and if we don’t hit our business goals, then there’s reason for doubt to say, ‘Why would we support a right-hand-drive, rear-wheel-drive V8 at a relatively low volume number if we can’t execute on the vehicles that should be high volume?&rsquo.”

It was clear that Holden, which has suffered an annual sales collapse of 11,784 units between the time of the sportscar announcement (in January 2015 following 2014’s 106,092-unit sales haul) and the end of 2016 (94,308 units), had now fallen under harsher scrutiny from GM, which recently sold off unprofitable European brands Opel and Vauxhall to French conglomerate PSA.

“I would feel a lot more comfortable having those conversations with leadership if we accomplish our business goals with the upcoming products,” Mr Harland reiterated.

Asked whether a decision to build a GM sportscar – currently limited to the left-hand-drive-only, Mustang-challenging Chevrolet Camaro and supercar-baiting Corvette – in right-hand drive required a significant product planning timeframe, the executive director of marketing replied: “Correct.”“Absolutely, the discussions of doing the plumbing for a right-hand-drive car has to go well in advance because if you do it retroactively, it just becomes cost prohibitive,” he admitted.

While Mr Harland could not confirm what the elusive Holden V8 sportscar could be, he admitted that importing a Camaro rival to the ultra-popular Ford Mustang was highly desirable.

“I would say I would love to have it (a rear-wheel-drive V8) as a halo vehicle much in the same way the Ford CMO (chief marketing officer) would say Mustang brings a great halo opportunity to Ford,” he explained.

“It’s something that still has a place, maybe not at the same volume levels that Commodore did in years past, but there’s still an opportunity as we’ve seen from Mustang, and I think it’s a lot easier to make that argument with the senior leadership if we execute on the upcoming launches.”

This month’s launch of the Astra sedan tips Holden past the halfway point of its promise to launch 24 new models before 2020, with the Astra Sportwagon, Equinox medium SUV, new Commodore and Acadia large SUV next on the brand’s hit list. However, the V8 sportscar could affect plans of Walkinshaw-offshoot HSV, the role of which Mr Harland admitted is currently under review.

“I think where does Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) fit in the portfolio, right?” he asked.

“I think Holden Special Vehicles does fit in the future. I’m not sure it fits in its current capacity, but certainly I could see a day where Holden Special Vehicles would be doing not just V8, they could be doing trucks and other things.”

HSV has not yet made announcement about its future, but GoAuto understands communication from the brand is imminent. However, Mr Harland confirmed that while HSV would still work with Holden products going forward, changes could be on the way.

“Working with Holden Special Vehicles as a company will continue,” he offered.

“(But) we haven’t made any final decisions on what those (next-generation) vehicles could be, though we are in discussions with them. What we call them that’s the discussion, the branding discussion that we’re having with them right now, and that really depends on what the product portfolio looks like.

“Which we haven’t come to any conclusions on. Distributing them through that network will continue. The heavy performance vehicles, whether be on-road or off-road vehicles, that still would go through that (Holden) network.

“Does it (HSV) become a sub-brand? I think those are all the discussions we have right now.”

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