Holden officials have finally – if indirectly – denied that the company is set to change the way Holden cars are distributed in Australia.
According to a report on caradvice.com.au, Holden’s managing director David Buttner addressed a Holden dealer meeting in Melbourne late last week, telling them reports that parent company General Motors would withdraw from Australia and hand the Holden importing business to a third party were “pure scuttlebutt”.
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“I did not join the company to close Holden,” the former head of Toyota Australia reportedly told the group, who were attending a planned 2019 strategy meeting.
Holden had steadfastly refused to make a public comment about the reports that circulated early last week. General Motors, the US company that owns Holden, had issued a single generalised statement saying it was committed to “building a strong Holden future.”
UK-based importer group Inchcape, meanwhile, chose not to shut down the Holden takeover rumour, instead pointing to its existing long-term strategy play known as 'Ignite'.
“We will build and strengthen our working relationships with our OEM partners by investing time in understanding their needs, seeking greater opportunities for collaboration with the aim of becoming a consistent strategic business partner,” reads part of the company’s strategy document.
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Inchcape employs 17,000 people in 29 countries and currently imports Subaru, Citroen and Peugeot into Australia. A report in the Australian Financial Review in early February pointed to Inchcape performing an analysis on taking Holden importation rights from General Motors.
Despite the denials, the relatively weak position of Holden – which will launch no new products in 2019 despite a stated plan to launch 24 new cars by 2020 – leaves it exposed. None of the brand’s key cars, including the Astra, Trax, Colorado (below) and Equinox, are performing as required against key rivals from Mazda, Ford and Toyota.
With a lull in new products coming from GM as the US giant transitions to new, leaner model line-ups, and uncertainty around the future of Holden's Opel-sourced products including Astra and Commodore, Holden looks likely to struggle for sales into 2020.
The brand shed 30,000 sales in 2018, a 30 percent fall from the year previous. In January this year sales dipped even further, with only the Astra hatchback and Colorado 4x4 recording positive growth. Even so, Astra and Colorado's sales volumes are barely half of key competitors like the Mazda 3 and the Ford Ranger.
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Mr Buttner (below) has experience when it comes to managing a company in the midst of direction change. He was at the helm of Toyota when the decision was made in Japan to close the Toyota’s local manufacturing arm in 2017, and was widely praised for his handling of the transition to a full-line importer.
He resigned from Toyota at the end of 2017, after a thirty-year career with the company.