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Holden’s horrible 2018

By Toby Hagon, 07 Jan 2019 News

Holden’s horrible 2018

More than a year to forget, Holden’s 2018 saw sales slip by a third. But there are green shoots of hope…

THERE’S little doubt 2018 will go down as a year Holden would prefer to forget.

A sales slump of 33 percent and record low market share of 5.3 percent were the stark reality for the brand’s first year in which it did not produce vehicles in Australia.

Once the dominant top seller, Holden finished sixth on the sales charts, comprehensively kicked by Hyundai and almost surpassed by Kia (to put that in perspective, between 1949 and 2015 Holden had never finished outside the top three). It was also beaten by arch rival Ford.

Of the 29,555 sales Holden shed in 2018 compared with 2017, around half - 14,636 - were attributed to the Commodore. Without the government and fleet appeal of being manufactured Down Under, the German-sourced Commodore was simply another import – and one competing in a segment continuing to slide against the SUV onslaught (SUVs accounted for 43 percent of the 1,153,111 new vehicles sold in 2018).

Other important Holdens such as the Astra and Equinox still aren’t firing, each also-rans in popular segments, small cars and mid-sized SUVs respectively. Similarly, the Colorado ute doesn’t have the firepower against the likes of the Hilux and Ranger.

Predictably, Holden is putting on a brave face, looking to the future rather than dwelling on the disastrous result.

Read next: April new car sales: Holden feels a different type of pain

“Holden has its best and most comprehensive vehicle portfolio ever, including a highly competitive range of SUVs from GM’s global operations,” a Holden spokesperson said in a statement.

While the company is tight-lipped about its sales prospects moving forward, there is evidence Holden has hit a low point.

Delve deeper into the 2018 figures and things got really ugly in the third quarter, from July to September, just as former chief Mark Bernhard was retiring.

Current GM and chairman Dave Buttner slipped into the hot seat in August at a time when Holden’s share hit an all-time low of 4.6 percent of the market.

It didn’t take Buttner long to cancel some orders to get the supply side of the equation at more manageable levels, in turn beginning the task of clearing stagnant stock from holding and dealer yards. Rather than forcing cars onto customers through heavy discounting, Holden wants to get more natural demand for longer term brand sustainability.

In the fourth quarter, as the broader market was tanking – down 9.3 percent compared with 2017 and the lowest quarter for 2018 – Holden sales were increasing and its market share recovered to 5.6 percent, a modest high during a tough year.

Read next: Holden’s sales slump continues while Toyota dominates September sales data

Holden won’t reveal its 2019 sales targets, except to hint they are higher than last year.

“We are working closely with our dealer partners, to ensure Australian customers get to know our new nameplates, like the Holden Acadia large SUV with its strong road presence and the Holden Equinox mid-size SUV packed with great technology to fit with people’s lives.”

It’ll be a slow road, but lovers of Australia’s most iconic automotive brand may finally have something to smile about it 2019.

Holden’s defenders – Reuss and Simcoe.

Despite a tough year, Holden still has valuable allies in high places.

Former Holden managing director Mark Reuss has been promoted to the position of president of General Motors, following in the footsteps of his father Lloyd.

Read next: Editor's letter: Can David Buttner save Holden?

Having witnessed the passion and talent of Holden in Australia first hand, Reuss has been a supporter of the brand, largely credited with keeping manufacturing operations viable during the GFC before returning to Detroit to take on various executive positions, most recently as the head of product development.

And Australia is never far from his thoughts: Reuss owns an FC Holden, which resides in the GM Heritage Centre in Detroit. He also visited Australia last year to announce an extra 150 engineers would be employed as part of Holden’s highly regarded Australian design and engineering centres.

Reuss is not the only Holden friend in power.

Read next: Wounded Lion: Holden's struggle to stay alive - report

GM design chief Mike Simcoe understands the Holden brand better than any, having revived the Monaro at the turn of the century and played an instrumental role in developing Holden’s world renowned design presence, much of it leveraged from the VE Commodore of 2006.

Having started his GM career at Holden in 1983, Simcoe has a soft spot for the brand.

While the bulk of his job is designing new Chevrolets, Cadillacs and Buicks – many of which will be electric and hybrid, changing their very make up – Simcoe still has a model of the Holden Coupe 60 concept in his office, as well as the original Holden lion logo.