Does the Holden badge have a future in Australia?
With the news of the Lion axing its iconic model in the Commodore, and sales numbers struggling find an upward trend, will GM keep the Holden badge?
The news of 10 December 2019 of the removal of the Commodore (and Astra, I suppose) from the market will certainly spawn various thinkpieces on Holden's fall from grace and the dissolution of a once-revered name.
And this article is no exception.
The sales numbers for the GM brand since the plant's closure have been showing an alarming drop, which had caused me to wonder many things, mostly on whether the Holden name itself will continue on. It's a sad scenario to ponder, as the brand has been a staple of the local car industry for decades.
The spokespeople for Holden will likely recoil at the notion, and I shall pre-write their response to this speculation for them.
"General Motors and Holden are committed to bringing great products to Australians under the Holden name that we have stood behind for decades. We have nothing to announce at this time, and any conclusions about the removal of the Holden name from showrooms and dealers is groundless, and we do not comment on speculation. We remain supportive of the thousands of hard working Australians who have built the Holden brand, and remain just as dedicated to bringing the Australian brand to Australians."
You're welcome, Holden PR.
Image courtesy of Holden.com.au
Holden's exit of manufacturing cannot be blamed on a single reason, be it tariffs, unions, free-trade agreements, Government monetary "co-investment" (an insulting euphemism, if I've ever heard one), or the winds of taste blowing in the direction of SUVs. It could be a perfect storm of all these factors, but there was something that was unmistakably missing from Holden's product line up.
Outside of the Commodore itself, which sold to the brand's faithful and fleets, there has been little else in the range that has been overly compelling in their respective segments. Holden had grown stale, and their brand image has suffered, with all their imported vehicles failing to make any significant waves.
There has been an excellent write up by Mark Holgate, which can best summarise the history.
Holden's small cars, Astra and Cruze, seemed lacklustre in the face of fresher designs from the Mazda3 and Hyundai i30, while the Corolla cut all their lunches by simply being a Corolla.
Their SUV offering, the Captiva, earned the largely unimaginative and obvious moniker "Craptiva", with people largely favouring the offerings also by Mazda, Hyundai and Toyota - with the Kia upstart making waves in the market with their robust 7-year warranties.
Photo by Oliver Brugger (@sierra201107) on Unsplash
In the Utility (truck) segment, the Holden Colorado has fared marginally better, but the GM-flavoured entry isn't serving to remotely phase the market leaders of Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger or even Mitsubishi Triton.
It's true that Australian car sales in 2019 have been soft across all segments and makes, but Holden has fallen so hard from their perch, the canary has punched a hole in the floor of its cage.
This stale range of vehicles has arguably cemented the idea that Holden was, and is, a "lower" badge. A commoner's badge. A "bogan" badge. The snobbery was real, if not by those who are so timid as to hate being seen as bogan, then by those who genuinely think lowly of society's lessers. There has been little to evoke any desire in the models that Holden sell, especially when compared to the sticker price, after-sales support and feature list of the competition.
Even Toyota, long renown for their "whitegoods on wheels" stigma, are gaining some excitement about the brand, with their new design language and renewed vision on sportiness - the GT86 and Supra creating a halo around the badge, while their hybrid RAV4 stomps around the streets (and its SUV competition), economically carting families around car parks and school collection points.
In October 2019, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries had Holden as the 11th most selling vehicle make in the country. This was well down on previous years, and a catastrophic collapse from Holden's hey-days in where they featured continually near the top of the charts, as the Commodore catered to Australian tastes of the time.
But tastes change, and the sun sets. It is not a scenario that I outline with any measure of glee, but if the General wants to keep their brand alive in Australia, even the hardest of Holden faithful must concede that a pivot needs to be made.
So, what do they do from here?
A common "modification" that has graced some Holden Commodores for a while has been the Chevrolet badge, in where the owners remove the Holden lion and replace it with the bow tie. Many Commodores that have never seen any kind of actual modification can be seen suited up with the Chevy logo; a tribute to the parent company, or perhaps to subconsciously distance themselves from the badge of the Lion.
It does not strike me as a terrible idea to officially introduce the Chevrolet brand to Australian shores. In Australia, I feel the Chevy badge has a certain mystique, and would serve to retain strong ties to the American muscle car culture that the Commodore clearly sought to evoke. The existence of Chevy bow ties in the many US television shows and movies showing in Australia could certainly allow for some easy marketing opportunities.
While not a bowtie-branded car, the new C8 Corvette Stingray currently has a lot of excitement buzzing surrounding its release, with the performance numbers looking like an absolute winner. The thought of seeing a Holden badge on the new GM supercar would be somewhat surreal to me, so the sale of the new Corvette in Australia could be a chance for GM to begin distancing their halo cars from the stone-rolling Lion.
The piece from Mark also mentions that there has been some testing of Cadillac vehicles, which could also be an option for GM.
Image courtesy of media.chevrolet.com
I take precisely zero joy in the idea of the Holden name slipping away. Holden have been a solid feature in the Australian automotive landscape for decades, have been a benchmark in Australian motorsport, and have brought some prosperity to thousands of people. I have personally worked with many individuals who have toiled hard for the brand, and who have faced stress as they weathered uncertain times.
If there's any company that should have learned the benefit of being agile in a quickly moving market, GM should be near the top. Having their products under their global brands is probably smarter, rather than having a unique Oz-NZ badge for just this corner of the globe.
Should the Holden badge disappear, I may briefly mourn, despite having no personal investment in the name. They have survived this long, and they have fought hard to remain here for as long as they have. GM has shown some faith in the name, and they have stuck it out for a while.
I am aware that I'm speaking as though this scenario is a foregone conclusion, which is hardly correct.
So please, feel free to just read my prepared statement from "Holden" above.