GM Holden Chairman and Managing Director Dave Buttner says his first 60 days at Fishermans Bend has revealed the scale of his task to win back local hearts and minds.
But the former Toyota Australia chief, who was lured out of retirement this year to help revive Holden’s fortunes, said he believed the company has the right portfolio, and access to diverse range of vehicles and brands to ensure it can meet the demands of discerning Australians.
Speaking with WhichCar at the launch of the new GMC-built Acadia seven-seat SUV, Buttner, who has ordered a freeze on the production of some models to clear a growing stockpile, revealed one of his first major challenges was to put the entire Holden range in people’s minds when looking to buy a new vehicle.
With so much focus on the Commodore, many buyers weren’t aware of all the other Holden models on offer, particularly its stable of SUVs, he said.
“I could confidently say that it’s the probably by far the best portfolio that Holden has had for a long time, and the key issue … is that the awareness of our product is not as high as it needs to be.
According to the new chief, Holden has continued to change with the marketplace that has seen passenger car sales slump at the expense of SUVs, however it’s yet to make major inroads in each SUV segment.
“We’ve got the Trax, Equinox, Calais Tourer, Acadia and Trailblazer so it’s a pretty good stable of products. But if you did a survey amongst family and friends and asked them ‘what cars does Holden sell in Australia?’ they probably wouldn’t be able to come up with all of those name brands. So that’s about awareness, we just have to create that awareness. Awareness leads to consideration.
“So there’s a lot of work to do. We need to tell people who we are, what we stand for, and we’ve got the products.”
Buttner believes that, despite the backlash that followed the end local Commodore and Cruze production, there is still plenty of trust in Holden.
“My sense is that for a certain part of the Commodore faithful it will be difficult to move on. I think 30 percent of the buyers were V8 buyers and they will be the ones that will find it the hardest to move on.
“The Commodore that we’re now importing, I believe frankly, is probably the best Commodore that we’ve ever sold in this country from a specification point of view and styling. Slowly I’m sensing the tonality of comments change.
“That certainly helps the brand, when people speak positively about your product then people feel a bit more ‘I’ll go have a look at that’. But if they’re hearing negative comments all the time then psychology takes over and they tend to steer away.”
And what of Holden’s long term prospects? Buttner said his initial dealing with GM executives during his first visit to Detroit convinced him that the company has a strong future as a vehicle importer and developer.
“I was quite buoyed by the positivity towards Australia and the strong desire to provide a product to make us successful in Australia,” he said. “If you get in early enough at the platform development stage, and it’s designed in both right- and left-hand drive, then really the world’s your oyster in terms of what you can bring in.
“That really excited me and reinforced a lot that I believed and learned when I did the due diligence before accepting the role. To go there and just see what’s happening in the world of R&D and design just made me think ‘yep’ we’re on the right track.”