What Next for Holden?
Tim O'Brien, Mike Stevens
Rumours, innuendo, and conflicting opinion on Holden's future is easy to find. So easy, in fact, that Holden has put its head above the parapet to launch a counter offensive.
In the week before Christmas, it launched a new advertising campaign that promised buyers: "we're here to stay".
The message to a miffed Australian community, so sayeth Holden Director of Marketing, Philip Brook, is that "Holden Dealers are open for business and the Holden brand is here to stay".
Outgoing MD MIke Devereux sang from the same hymn book: "The Holden brand is here to stay. I can rule out today any change to the Holden brand".
So the Holden brand is safe. But is it?
Despite these assurances, a lot can and will happen in this market, and in GM Detroit, in the three years before the wheels grind to a stop in GM Holden's Elizabeth and Port Melbourne manufacturing plants.
TMR Deputy Editor Mike Stevens is convinced the Holden badge will stay. I beg to differ: I am convinced that GM Holden will become GM Chevrolet in 2017.
So it's off with the gloves. This can only be settled 'mano a mano'.
THE AFFIRMATIVE: MIKE STEVENS Holden Badge Will Stay
The Holden brand is not so deep in trouble that it can't be saved - and whatever the company's troubles, replacing the legendary lion with 'the golden bowtie' is not the answer.
It has been suggested in one commentary (certainly not by TMR) that visiting GM executives see Chevy badges in pride of place on some Holdens as proof the all-American brand would succeed in the Australian market.
Perhaps it would get by, but surely few would seriously take the occasional appearance of a Chev-badged Commodore as evidence of greater market cachet than Holden.
No, the lion will stay. GM would not be so foolish as to discard it, nor risk the loss in sales and relevance in rebranding its Australian arm.
GM's Detroit boardroom knows enough about the brand here to know its worth in this market. There is little doubt that it will lose market share here when Australian manufacturing ends, but Chevrolet will certainly fare no better - so why bother?
Yes, it's true that GM has shown little sentiment in discarding brands in its own market (like the shut down of Pontiac and Hummer during the GFC), but, Saab aside, it has not been so willing to wield the axe with its global brands.
GM's commitment to leveraging the history and identity of the Vauxhall brand, rather than replacing it in the UK with the Opel name, will likely be the model it adopts for Australia.
The Chevrolet badge will never 'cut it' here, it means little or nothing to Australian car buyers. If GM is worried about Holden's image, adopting the Chevrolet badge will not provide the answer.
In the US, Chevrolet is a bottom-tier volume-selling brand. With the exception of the Camaro and the Corvette, the bulk of its range is focused on budget - and even those two heroes are icons of the blue-collar market.
Above Chevrolet sits Buick - another mostly rebadged Opel range - but that badge is even less relevant here and, like Chevrolet, would take years to gain acceptance and any market traction.
No, the solution for GM is to keep the Holden badge, and to keep the brand competitive: to give Australian buyers the best products from GM's global stable.
Because while the VF Commodore is easily the best car Holden has ever produced, and undoubtedly one of the best-value buys of 2013, it's the only real standout in a range of cars that isn't easy to recommend.
Departing Holden boss Mike Devereux said in December that Holden will continue in Australia, promising a range of appealing and competitive models.
Is that competitive with Great Wall and Chery, or with Mazda and Ford? If the latter, then GM must give its global Chevrolet range a proper makeover. It needs it, certainly as far as interior quality is concerned.
And that may be about to happen: there's a new Cruze on the way, and reports suggest that GM delayed its launch so that the new small car's quality and dynamics could be improved.
But, improved Chevrolet or no, GM would do better to ship a new generation of Holden-badged Opel models to Australia in 2017.
Yes, Opel failed here in 2013, but its models were old and overpriced. With an all-new range, a Holden badge and competitive pricing - and a few years - the market would quickly forget that earlier flub.
Whether through new Opel-sourced models or an improved Chevrolet range, the solution for GM in Australia is clear: keep the badge, ditch the budget boxes.
And that's what GM detroit will do.
THE NEGATIVE: TIM O'BRIEN Holden Badge Will Go
Not only will GM kill its local manufacturing operations in 2017, but the lion badge itself will be buried in the next plot.
Pay no attention to Holden's 'hand-on-heart' pledge that the brand is here to stay.
Any commitment from Holden is as reliable and unwavering as a Hollywood marriage vow. For proof, ask Industry Minister Ian MacFarlane or the Australian Productivity Commission.
What we have to now recognise - all of us who have perversely loved this Australian badge and every part of the tradition and history that is piled behind it (even though we always knew it wasn't really Australian) - is that our affection is not reciprocated in GM Detroit.
In the transnational monolith that is General Motors, a company with an annual turnover in excess of US$150billion, and a boardroom that carries that number around in its head when making decisions, this Australian GM operation barely qualifies as a trickle in a backwater.
So why should that backwater carry a badge that is largely unrecognisable outside of this small market, and the smaller New Zealand market?
If it were true that Holden was loved, if it had not ten percent of the Australian market, but 15 or 20 percent and growing, then perhaps the argument could be put.
But it's not loved by buyers here, not anymore.
If anything, it has an image problem. That Holden badge that once stood for solid Australian family values is now shackled undeservedly to an image of being outmoded and out of favour: 'yesterday's rump'.
Certainly - as certain as sunrise - when the last Commodore creeps along the line to the factory doors, Holden's market share will go into freefall.
"So why not a new birth? Why not an undiluted GM brand leveraging its global marketing effort to Australian car buyers?" Those are the questions that will be batted around GM boardrooms.
And they'll have marketing specialists there with silly haircuts and oddball eye-wear and who will spout litanies of pretentious marketing jargon about the primacy of 'the GM brand', of the 'values' and 'attributes' that underpin it, and of the global irrelevance of Holden in the GM 'brand portfolio'.
Certainly, few listening to those arguments will care a hoot for this uniquely Australian badge. Even fewer will hold any sentiment for its retention.
That's the fact of it; the scary truth of distant decisions made in distant boardrooms. It's scary because it reminds us of our perfect irrelevance and of the beige stifling blandness of a transnational corporate world.
One burger, one Coke, one brand, one world.
But, yes, it is in Detroit where this decision will be made - in the same rooms, you'd expect, where the last decision concerning Holden was made.
And, as much as I hate the notion, the Holden badge will disappear.
"RIP Holden, a knife to the heart December 2013, to join the choir invisible 2017. Alas, we knew it well."
Tim O'Brien, Mike Stevens
What are your views? Tell us whether you think the Holden badge will go, or will stay.
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