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Market Insight: Holden sweats on new Colorado

Flagging: The new Colorado can't come soon enough for Holden's struggling LCV line-up.

GM Holden needs sales injection from all-new Colorado to lift slipping LCV sales

26 Sep 2011

HOLDEN’S all-new Colorado ute is being put through its final testing paces in the back blocks of Thailand ahead of its roll-out in Australia in the first quarter of next year, and that must be music to the ears of the sales and marketing team at the iconic Australian brand’s Port Melbourne HQ.

Only seven years ago, Holden was at the top of the light commercial vehicle tree in Australia, offering an unprecedented range of light trucks, including the locally made, Commodore-based One Tonner and double-cab Crewman alongside the familiar Ute and Thai-built Rodeo.

Holden put together a string of record sales performances in 2004, ending the year with 47,631 light truck sales for a market share of 29.1 per cent, trouncing rival Toyota with its 41,448 sales and 25.3 per cent share.

Since then, as our accompanying graph shows, it has been pretty much all downhill for light trucks wearing the lion badge.

So far this year, Holden is clinging to a 12.5 per cent LCV share, with sales volume down 16.7 per cent on the corresponding period last year.

In the popular 4x4 ute segment, the ageing Colorado (nee Rodeo) is running at half the sales speed of the market-leading Toyota HiLux and Nissan Navara.

In the 4x2 ute segment, the locally made Holden Ute still packs a solid punch, with a market share of 18.9 per cent, placing it a commendable second to the 4x2 HiLux that has 23.7 per cent share.

It is also well ahead of its traditional rival, the Ford Falcon ute, that has slipped all the way back to 12.1 per cent, compared with 15.2 per cent last year.

But the once-dominant 4x2 ute market is not what it was. In 2004, 4x2 workhorse utes outsold the 4x4 variety by about 80,000 to 59,000.

128 center imageFrom top: Current Holden Colorado, Holden Omega Ute and Holden Combo.

By 2010, the position had been reversed, with 4x2 ute sales slipping to just under 60,000, and the 4x4 utes – popular with weekend warriors – soaring to almost 94,000.

The 4x2 Holden Colorado has been particularly hard hit this year, with sales almost halved from 1678 units to the end of August last year to just 900 this year.

The Colorado has fared better in the 4x4 segment – as most utes have – selling precisely 7000 units to August for a 10.4 per cent share and fifth place in the rankings. However, its sales tally is still down 9.1 per cent in a segment up 6.7 per cent year to date.

The fact is that the creaky Colorado – launched as the RA Rodeo in 2003, with a few updates since – has not been able to run with the more athletic pack in the 4x4 arena, leaving Holden with few answers.

The Colorado’s cause has not been helped by a split between GM and Isuzu – who co-developed the Rodeo – forcing Holden to tear-up the Rodeo nameplate in 2008, along with all the goodwill earned over the years, and bed down the new American name, Colorado, starting from zero brand recognition.

As well, Isuzu opened up its own ute sales channel, going into direct opposition to its former partner with the near identical D-Max, effectively splitting the sales base.

Holden’s problems were compounded by the demise of the Crewman and its 4x4 variants, the Cross6 and Cross8, which were killed off when GM decided not to make a new generation of the hard-to-build hybrid chassis light truck when the new-generation VE Commodore arrived in 2006.

And things are going to get a whole lot worse before they getter better as this year rolls on, with rivals primed to launch an unprecedented salvo of new ute models, all boasting fresh buffed looks, new technology and sharp pricing.

These include the facelifted HiLux, all-new Ford Ranger and the closely related Mazda BT-50, along with new variants of the highly rated Volkswagen Amarok.

But there are chinks of light in the Holden LCV tunnel, mainly in the shape of the next-generation Colorado that is warming up on the Thai launching pad.

Armed with an all-new 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel (among other engines), the muscular-looking new Colorado should be well placed to wipe the slate clean and give Holden the ute boost it needs.

The Colorado will arrive late to the party, but that means it will be among the freshest when all the market settles down to do the hard yards in 2012.

Holden’s van presence seems less certain, with its only contender, the Combo small van, struggling to deliver in a segment dominated by bigger workhorses such as the Hyundai iLoad and Toyota Hiace.

However, with 259 sales this year, Combo at least is coming second in the baby-van sub-segment, trailing only the VW Caddy (1186).

The elephant in the LCV room is China and eight eager manufacturers – so far – all looking for a slice of the Aussie action.

In the ute segment to date, the Chinese-made Great Wall utes have mostly competed against second-hand utes, and have a way to go before causing sweat on the brow of Toyota executives.

However, the imminent arrival of more serious utes from China, such as Foton’s all-new, Cummins-powered P201, is likely to signal a more worrying phase for the existing players. This ute has been designed from the ground up for western markets, with a spanking new design, including the turbo-diesel engine.

The van segment appears to be even more vulnerable to Chinese attack, with two Chinese vans – again both powered by Cummins diesel engines – already set to land here in the next few months.

For Holden, all eyes will be on Colorado and its locally made V6 Ute. With no major Ute makeover in sight, it will be up to the new Thai-built one-tonner to do the business.

Holden will be buoyed by the increasing brand recognition for the Colorado badge, as well as positive comment about the chunky macho styling of the concept shown at the Australian International Motor Show in July.

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