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Holden: The Day For Closing Is Coming. Part Two.

This is part two of an interview conducted with Holden’s PR guru, Sean Poppitt, before the closure of Holden as a manufacturer of cars and engines in Australia.

Speaking of local products…Keeping the Commodore nameplate has seen plenty of discussion as to whether it should stay or not. What has been Holden’s reason for doing so?
There wasn’t one single thing that drove that decision…there’s a number of different factors we considered…one of the first ones was this: we went out and talked to Commodore owners. We went and talked to non-Commodore owners, and we did a really extensive market research piece, sitting down with customers and non-customers and asking that question. The overwhelming response we got was to keep the name. Of course that doesn’t take anything away from people’s right to have an opinion on this, I would wonder how many of those with a negative opinion are Holden or Commodore owners.

Two, we made sure that we were comfortable that the car did everything a Commodore should do. (It’s here that Sean’s tone changed and he became very thoughtful.) What defines a Commodore? Is it local manufacturing? You could argue that it’s that as every Commodore from the start has been manufactured here. Let’s not forget that the first ever Commodore was…an Australian modified Opel Rekord…which we built…and we’ve come full circle…taking an Opel car and making it a Commodore.One of the great things about keeping our Lang Lang proving grounds is it’s allowed us to have our engineers embedded in that program for six years. There’s been well over one hundred and sixty thousand kilometres of local testing, which has given us a unique suspension tune for every single model, a unique engine and gearbox combination which isn’t available anywhere else in the world. We’re talking the V6 and nine speed auto, the advanced all wheel drive system, the adaptive chassis. If it’s going to be a Commodore we NEED it to be able to do X, Y, and Z. This car has everything the last car did and more, but there isn’t the obvious emotional attachment and nostalgic element to it not being built here.

I don’t want at all to make light or not give the gravity that it’s due to the local manufacturing people and the passion the people had for that, and what it’s meant for this country and this brand…by every conceivable measure, the new car is a better car than the old one.
(Sean’s tone becomes lighter here). We always knew that a front wheel drive four cylinder Commodore was going to raise some eyebrows, we knew that, but the four cylinder turbo is the fastest, most fuel efficient, most powerful base engine we’ve ever had in a Commodore, so by every single possible measure that car will be better than the base Commodore we have here.Outside of your preference for front drive or rear wheel drive, for the diehard performance enthusiast we’re going to have a sports car, or, potentially, sports cars in the not so distant future. It’s important to note that it’s really only in the last eighteen months that the sales of V8s in a Commodore has lifted up so high. Over the last ten years 88% of Commodore sales have been V6s, and of that a vast majority have been SV6s.
With Opel now under the PSA umbrella, does this open up the model range available for Australian buyers?
There’s certainly opportunities. We’ve been very clear that the current Opel products that we’re taking, which includes the next gen Commodore and the current Astra hatch, there will be no change to them over the course of their projected model life. Dan Amman, who’s our global president, said, when we were in Geneva recently that there’s more opportunity for Holden, not less.

At the current time, where does Holden see itself in five years time, especially with the new SUVs and Camaro in the frame?
We made a commitment back in, I believe, 2015, that we would launch 24 new models by 2020, which effectively means we’re revamping or replacing every single vehicle in the Holden line-up. I’d also say that right now we have the best “pound for pound” showroom we’ve ever had. And it’s only going to get better; we’ve got Equinoxe coming in mid November, the next gen Commodore of course, next year there’s the Acadia, which gives us this really filled out SUV portfolio, which is obviously great for us as that’s where the market is going.

Our strength, for a long time, has been in large sedans, which is a shrinking part of the market. The growth in SUVs, we’ve been really well represented there in the past, and we’ve got Trax, we’ve got Trailblazer, and Equinoxe and Acadia to come. Even Colorado, that continues to grow, with every month the figures show an increase in sales. It’s about going where the market goes rather than hanging onto a sector of the market where clearly people have voted with their feet and wallets to not be a part of.

When we made this announcement four years ago, back in 2013 (about ceasing manufacturing), which really raised questions about what does Holden stand for, which did have a shadow hanging over the business in a way, we want to stay and remain a clear and solid number four in the market and stay on track to sell one in ten vehicles sold in this country. I think it’s remarkable, too, that in such a tough period we’re still one of the top players in this country. I also think we’ve got a rare and unique opportunity to honour one hundred and sixty years of history and heritage and make sure that Holden means as much to our grandkids as it did to our grandfathers.(It’s a huge thanks to Sean Poppitt for his time and his candid responses, and since this interview Holden has confirmed the Camaro SS will come to Australia as the “halo” car. It also officially unveiled the 2018 Commodore which, effectively, confirms for Commodore the SS badging is no longer…)

One comment

  1. Bill Nixon says:

    Sadly the average buyer is going for SUVs. I don’t like them. The SUV’s popularity is restricting the choice available to motorists who prefer normal sedans, station wagons and coupes to the four wheel behemoths now populating our roads.
    I wonder if the moniker Sports Utility Vehicle was changed to People Mover Utility Van if this style of vehicle would have become so popular? Or do people really think an SUV is a sports machine? If they do I feel sorry for them, but it might explain some of the poor drivers we observe on our roads.

    October 18th, 2017 at 11:30 am