Change is the only constant these days at Holden, and that change continues from the top down. Not only that it’s dramatic change!
When a lifelong Toyota man is appointed as the new head of Holden you know big things are happening at Fishermans Bend.
The announcement that Mark Bernhard is leaving General Motors at the end of this month is far less of a surprise than the naming of his replacement on July 18.
He is Dave Buttner (right), who is coming out retirement to take up the new post. Mr Buttner is the former President of Toyota Australia, and a 30-year veteran of the Japanese auto-making colussus.
He has clearly been brought in to stop any revolt by dealers over Holden’s currently pathetic performance and piddling market share, and the difficulties dealers are facing because of Holden’s clumsy transition from manufacturer to importer.
Although Mr Bernhard has only been at Holden’s helm for three years, he has had a 32-year career with General Motors. However, Holden has clearly been floundering since manufacturing ceased and some very silly decisions came out of the top floor office.
|Holden Insignia would have been a much smarter choice|
Naming the Opel-based Insignia as the ‘new Holden Commodore’ heads the list of dumb decisions, and as a result of the Commodore consumer confusion; plus the fact that the Equinox SUV was late to market; and the Colorado had to be re-engineered to become competitive, has resulted in traffic through dealerships crashing down a cliff.
Holden dealers complained long and hard to Bernhard about the low traffic numbers, so the new marketing whizz, Kristian Aquilina, came up with the brainwave of offering buyers $500 if they tested a Holden, but then purchased a competitor’s car.
That sounded like a really desperate move, however it instantly got people into dealerships around the country, and so what if Holden had to write a few $500 cheques – at least dealers saw that Holden was doing something about increasing showroom traffic.
According to my good friend and highly experienced auto writer, Paul Gover, David Buttner is nicknamed ‘Consensus Dave’ because of his ability to bring doubters on board, and his time was highly valued by both Toyota's Japanese and Australian management. He will bring a steady hand, and in company with Mr. Aquilina, the dealers are likely to be more confident about their future with the brand.
The change in management was announced in Detroit by Barry Engle (right), Executive VP and President of GM International, whose announcement also contained further words of comfort for Holden dealers.
He said: “GM’s most senior leadership strongly believe that we have a rare jewel in Holden, an iconic Australian brand that understands the needs of Australian drivers.”
This certainly means Holden's 72 year history will continue in Australia, and once it gets its act together in the SUV/Crossover space with new products, it’s likely that it will continue to enjoy complete support from Detroit.
With the reduction in the importance of passenger cars, versus Crossovers and SUVs, this also means that when the PSA/Holden supply deal for Insignia and Astra ends in six years, Australia will see the next Holden based on platforms emanating in Detroit.
I have been told quite firmly that there will be no new Holdens built on PSA platforms, and also the future potential of the Epsilon II platform, which currently underpins the Insignia, and Holden/Chevrolet Malibu, amongst others, would continue to provide a sound foundation for any future ‘Commodore’, designed in Detroit or Down Under.
|Holden Malibu - built on GM's Epsilon II platform - originally developed by Opel|
However, as GM is also finding out like every other car-maker, that passenger cars are ‘on the nose’, I think that any decisions on any future passenger cars will sit behind the importance of both new SUV/Crossovers, and electric and autonomous cars.
It’s my opinion that in six years time, there will be less and less importance placed on the value of ‘what is a Commodore’ – by then it will be distant history.