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HSV to learn lessons from Lexus

Grant: "I’d love to see dealerships that provide extraordinary levels of service appropriate top our products."

Lexus executive is set to make his mark at Holden’s muscle-car unit

HSV logo31 May 2007

HOLDEN Special Vehicles' new managing director Scott Grant has nominated expanding the model range, improving customer service and assisting dealers in better understanding HSV products as his prime focus.

The former Toyota and Lexus product and marketing executive kicked-off his career at HSV last week as the replacement for Phil Harding, who now oversees HSV's export markets from the United Kingdom.

While applying his experience with Lexus' enviable retail operations will be an obvious area for him to work with, Mr Grant said at the Grange sedan launch last week that a bigger product portfolio was also high on the agenda.

"I would love to see a broad product range... selling to a broader series of customer segments out there," he said. "At the bottom end we have the Astra type product... we need to make sure that we maximise the volume potential to get in the younger entry-level type buyers.

"I also think there is potential at the top end with the Senator and Grange to continue to expand that product in time to snare the ageing baby boomers with a bit of money to spend on product that really represents great value for money against the Europeans.

"Ideally, we would like to handle people from their very earliest car needs through to when they are exiting the world. I don’t see us moving into minivans or anything like that, just your standard passenger-car requirements." Unsurprisingly, Lexus-like service levels are also on the table.

"I'd love to see dealerships that provide extraordinary levels of service appropriate to our products, ideally set in facilities with fantastic gleaming performance luxury vehicles throughout," he said.

Having headed up marketing at Toyota and then product planning at Lexus, Mr Grant believes marketing is his biggest area of contribution to HSV.

"I worked in the automotive business nearly 19 years, in 12 different areas of business, from parts and service to product planning to marketing... I spent four years in the USA," he said.

"I think through that experience, you gain an understanding of what it takes to build momentum for a brand – whether it be the Toyota brand, which has been booming during that time, or the Lexus brand which has been moving forward.

"Add up on top of that the Lexus experience of nearly three years – where the luxury market was growing about three and half to four per cent each year, and we were growing at more than 20 per cent – and hopefully I can bring that experience to the role as well.

"Particularly in the higher-grade cars that we need to sell to a different type of customer than to the core HSV target market." Nevertheless, Mr Grant said he did not want to neglect HSV's traditional buyer demographic.

"We need to maintain that core target and remain true to that core target with the short-wheelbase vehicles," he said. "But there are other people at the higher end and even the entry-level buyers that we should be able to bring into the brand, and then provide a life-long experience." With the Grange, Mr Grant said sales could grow by keeping the performance and dynamic side of the HSV experience up while toning down the big wings and spoilers.

"In marketing (a vehicle), you're always splitting hairs. And then at some point these split hairs become big enough and you create a segment, and you can label them. This has been happening in our industry for years and years," he said.

 center imageFrom top: Scott Grant, Grange and Senator (below).

"(For us) what we are seeing are relatively affluent people – these are not cheap cars – and they really appreciate the driving experience. That can be braking, handling, power and performance – but they don’t want to go all the way to a pretentious brand proposition.

"They feel like they deserve and are quite like enjoying their helm, but maybe with more of an understated presence.

"Big wings and crazy spoilers – maybe these are not quite as attractive to them now that they're getting a little older. So what we're seeing is just that little bit split away from your traditional GTS-type person, some of those folks are – dare I say – maturing cads, and so they're splitting away just a little and moving up (to Senator and Grange)." Mr Grant said that one of the criteria that HSV was seeking in a new boss was somebody with a thorough understanding of the Sydney market. "We are not doing as well in the Sydney market as expected," he said.

Mr Grant also insisted that "fixing" HSV customer service was not the main reason why HSV turned to a former Toyota/Lexus person for the job.

"I don't have any brief or preconceived ideas about there being any problems in that area... I have not been given that brief," he said. "But I definitely have a lot of experience and knowledge about how positive the retail experience can be on your business.

"At the end of the day, the business is product and its dealers, and the dealers are the ones working with customers when they have issues with their cars from time to time.

"Sales and ownership experience are a big part of what the brand really stands for, and I think every franchise in our industry... has got to continue to be relevant and at the forefront of that sales experience." So does Mr Grant intend to shake up the HSV dealer network? "I'm sure there is more that we can do, but I am not coming in with a preconceived idea that we need to turn the dealers upside down or inside out," he said. "I think you can always do more. I've definitely seen that experience and lived through it very successfully.

"That became a key pillar of the Lexus strategy – to try and grab a point of difference. At that time, it was not the product it had to do with the sales, ownership and service experience, to try and create a point of difference. I think we were successful at doing that.

"I think in part that was responsible for the success of the brand, but I think you must have good product, and product and dealers must work together, because you can have the best product in the world but if your dealers cannot sell the value of that product, then you are always going to fall short of your potential." Mr Scott believes dealers should understand how much improved today's HSV vehicles are compared to their predecessors, and to really get that message across. In the next few weeks, he and HSV chairman John Crennan will tour the dealership network "to hear what's good, bad and indifferent" about the business.

"At this time, I am listening to as many people as possible, and out of that we will determine the areas we need to get out and tackle for the next couple of years," Mr Scott said.

"I think I've got to be the luckiest automotive executive in the country, to be honest – what a great thing it is to be the MD of HSV."

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