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02 July 2019
GM Holden has played down its fall to ninth place on the Australian new-vehicle sales charts this year, insisting the lion brand has actually started to grow again – so long as its recently axed models, including the recently announced Astra sedan and wagon, are left out of the calculations.
The company’s sales volume has shrunk by 21.9 percent for the year to date, to 19,700 units, in a new-vehicle market that has contracted by 8.1 percent due to economic strain.
GM Holden executive director of sales Peter Keley carefully took aim at the media’s ‘factually correct’ reporting of Holden’s 2019 sales decline and the apparently mixed messages it has been sending to customers.
“We’re certainly very open to being given a whack now and then,” he said.
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“But certainly what the consumer could read out of this is that Holden must be the worst-performing brand.
“But it’s not Holden.”
While Mr Keley stopped short of naming that particular brand, Subaru is the only one of the top 15 players which has fallen further than Holden this year, with the Japanese brand down 27.4 percent, to 15,518 units, which places it 11th.
“Yes, Holden has been doing it tough in the marketplace. There is no doubt about that,” Mr Keley said. “But we certainly aren’t the biggest loser.”
The Holden sales chief reiterated the company ‘has been undergoing a huge transition in its business’, which has prompted its overall sales decline.
“You probably think about transition in terms of moving from local manufacturing to being an importer, but that’s not actually the transition we’re going through: it’s moving from being a passenger-focused brand to being an SUV and LCV-focused brand,” he said.
“That’s a massive change: changing many, many decades of Holden history, because when people think about SUVs – to be honest – they don’t think about Holden first.
“We’re overinvesting huge to become a major player in the SUV space, but that takes a bit of time to grow.”
Holden launched a massive SUV-focused marketing campaign in February, and it has begun to pay dividends for the brand, with Equinox, 2332 units, and Trailblazer, 1094, up 16.1 and 2.4 percent respectively to the end of May, while Acadia, 1102, is starting to find traction.
However, Holden’s oldest SUV nameplate, Trax, 1845 units, is struggling this year, with the small SUV’s sales down 19.2 percent in the highly competitive segment, which has the largest number of entrants of any class.
SUVs now account for 33.2 percent of Holden’s volume, eclipsing passenger cars for the first time in its history, while light-commercial vehicles continue to lead overall.
Either way, Holden’s market share remains in decline, falling to 4.5 percent after the first five months of sales this year and placing it on course to eclipse 2018’s 5.3 percent as a new record-low annual result.
Mr Keley moved to place a different emphasis on Holden’s current position, stressing that ‘our underlying health – from the products we are transitioning to – is a positive trend but masked by the fact that we have a number of entries that are no long available in 2019’.
“When you’re going through a transition, the headline numbers can be painful, and there’s no doubt that our top-line market share has been a declining trend,” he said.
“But the important thing to remember – as we’re going through our transition – is that the comparison point is to one where we had Sparks, the comparison point is to one where we had Barinas.
“If you take out current model range and then compare the sales of our current model range this year to last year, you then have an underlying positive trend in our market performance.
“We’ve actually had three months of year-on-year growth so far this year from our current entries and we expect to have more as time goes on.”
Holden announced the discontinuation of the Spark micro hatch and Barina light car in April and September last year respectively, with no sales for either model recorded since April this year.
If the pair are removed from Holden’s 2019 sales alongside its other discontinued models – including the locally manufactured Commodore, Ute and Caprice plus Captiva – the brand has actually increased its year-to-date volume by 5.7 percent.
This is true so long as Acadia – which was not available in the first five months of this year – is included in the calculation, but if it is removed, Holden’s tally is only down 0.3 percent.
However, further bleeding is likely still to come from the Astra small car, with Holden revealing its low-volume sedan and wagon body styles are currently in run-out, leaving the hatch as the sole offering.
Mr Keley also pointed out that ‘there’s definitely something happening at the Holden dealership’, with every single one of its current models growing their share in their respective segments last month.
“But May is one month. We don’t just want to focus on one month of achievement,” he said.
In the year to date, Equinox, Trailblazer and Colorado 4x2 and 4x4 have all increased their segment share, with the foursome accounting for 55.7 per cent of Holden’s volume.
Having just received its MY20 update, the Colorado ute is once again pushing for a podium finish in the overall ute segment, according to Mr Keley.
“At the end of the day, we’ll always try to sell as many as we can, but it’s a step-by-step process, and we believe number three is a realistic goal in the short-to-medium term,” he said.
“There’s a fair volume gap from where we are and you don’t change people’s hearts and minds overnight, so this will be a goal that we progressively move towards.”
In the year to date, Colorado is placed fourth behind the Toyota HiLux, 20,736 sales, Ford Ranger, 16,645, and Mitsubishi Triton, 10,062, although this is an improvement over its fifth-place finish last year, when Isuzu’s D-Max also moved ahead of it.
In order to overtake Triton, Holden is targeting private and small-fleet ute buyers with the introduction of Colorado’s full-time LSX grade, which borrows most of its tough looks from the Z71 flagship.
It has also introduced a new LTZ+ grade that takes aim at fleet management organisations with its towing package and rerated maximum payload of just under 1000kg that makes it available via novating leasing.
– Justin Hilliard