Six months after closing its Elizabeth production line, Holden is facing an intensifying battle for survival. Sales have dived, some dealers are furious and the latest round of departures has reshuffled the executive order – again.
The shift from local manufacturer to full importer has been punishing, highlighting the poor health of the brand; Holden sold more imported cars in the early 2000s than it did in 2017, the year when imports became its sole focus. Discounting has been the solution to clear excess stock.
The plight of Holden is unlikely to be high on the radar of GM CEO Mary Barra, who is heavily focused on China and America, where almost 80 percent of the automotive giant’s cars are sold.
Local boss Mark Bernhard is under intense pressure, prompting meetings with analysts and key dealers to formulate a fresh plan.
Holden denies it is going anywhere, emphasising it has “great backing from GM” and that the company is investing heavily in ride-share service Maven, telematics system OnStar and $150 million in dealer updates.
The man in charge of the Asia-Pacific region since late last year, Barry Engle, visited Australia earlier this year and claimed he is “confident in our ability to turn the business around”.
Read next: Exclusive: Mark Bernhard on Holden's future
Bernhard, meanwhile, remains steadfast and determined: “We are reinventing one of the longest-running companies in Australia and, in many ways, we’re in unchartered territory.”
BY THE NUMBERS
4.8% - Holden's record low market share in March
From its worst-ever sales result in February, Holden sank to a record low market share in March. The 4.8 percent figure was a mere shadow of the 21.6 peak in 2002, the last time Holden was the top-selling brand. The March result saw Holden finish the monthly sales race in 10th, outdone by the likes of Volkswagen, Honda and Nissan, brands that have traditionally been well behind Holden. Even Kia came within 32 cars of outselling Holden.
7 Managing directors in 10 years
Current boss Mark Bernhard has been in post for almost three years, but executive positions at Holden have been a revolving door for the last decade. From sales and marketing to MDs, there have been more than 20 shifts in executive roles. Recently, Holden’s marketing director left the company, replaced by the head of Holden New Zealand, Kristian Aquilina. Ex-Telstra executive Peter Jamieson also departed the newly created position of director of customer experience. Holden also reappointed Peter Keley to the role of sales director following a sabbatical working on the upcoming OnStar rollout.
4 Major right-hand-drive markets GM has exited
In recent years General Motors has retreated from Europe, as well as key right-hand-drive markets, including Japan and the UK. Last year it also exited India and South Africa – sapping crucial volume that once used to justify right-hook investments within the GM portfolio.
78 Average sales per dealer
In the first quarter of 2018 the average Holden dealer shifted just 78 new cars, well down on the industry average; the average Toyota dealer moved 255 new cars, with Mercedes-Benz dealers shifting 170. As well as low sales Holden has the the second biggest dealer network in the country – outdone only by Toyota, compounding the problem. Despite the poor numbers Holden says there are no plans to further cull the network, with efforts instead focused on reviving sales.
7 - The number of brands GM has folded or sold since 2000
General Motors has had no qualms killing off brands over the past 20 years, including ones with histories as rich and treasured as Holden. Saab, Hummer, Saturn, Pontiac and Oldsmobile have all been consigned to the GM scrapheap (some as a result of the culling following bankruptcy), while grand plans for taking Chevrolet global have also been shelved, consigning it predominantly to America and parts of Asia. In 2017, GM also sold its European brands Opel and Vauxhall, two that were part of its stables since 1931 – the same year Holden came under full ownership of the former top-selling car maker.