New Car Sales: GM Holden?s Huge Problem With Commodore Photo:
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Tim O'Brien | Sep, 07 2015 | 71 Comments

Holden has a problem, and it knows it. And General Motors will also be aware because at stake here is the Australian market and the GM brand’s place in it.

Right now, the brand that dominated Australian car sales for the greater part of fifty years, is staring at collapse of its market share. And worse, decimation of its dealer sector.

And its problem is the Commodore. Or, more to the point, finding a car in the next two years that Australians can believe in, to replace it.

Because right now, without Commodore, Holden in G-O-N-E… gone.

And the numbers tell us why.

Year-to-date, for 2015, Holden has captured a competitive 67,502 sales. Down around 10 percent on 2014 when it sold 74,398 units in the same period, but a healthy share nonetheless.

And here’s the problem: of those sales, 22,257 are Commodore sales – the sum of sedan, wagon, ute and Caprice.

In other words, one-in-every-three of Holden sales is a Commodore.

Take the Commodore out of Holden showrooms, which will happen post-2017, and there is nothing in the Holden line-up below Commodore – and there are a lot of cars there – that looks remotely like stepping up to the plate.

The Colorado is next, but it would appear to be maxed-out on less than half the Commodore’s sales on 10,551 YTD; Cruze is sliding and also on less than half with 10,409 sales YTD, Captiva is holding its own – just… 10,347 sales YTD, adding Captiva5 and Captiva7 – and Malibu, Insignia and Astra are struggling to bother the scorer.

So, on annual sales this year, subtract Commodore and, in the absence of a ‘big ticket’ replacement, that would put Holden on 45,245 sales, or in seventh place behind Ford, and just ahead of Nissan. With around 5.5 percent of the market.

But given the interest in Commodore, and its showroom prominence, the rot will run deeper.

There is not a product on the Australian market which lights up the internet like Commodore news. Neither on this site, nor others.

The VF Commodore collapsed our servers on the day its details were announced by Holden, such was the traffic to TMR.

The recent leaked images – just a shadowy glimpse of headlights – of the new VF II sent another wave of ‘search traffic’ through, totally dominating numbers to the site on the weekend past.

The halo effect of the Commodore is clearly alive and well. The problem GM has here is in finding a product that will capture hearts and minds and bring buyers into Holden showrooms, without a Commodore on the floor.

It would seem unlikely that GM has that rabbit in its hat, given the current product portfolio and when whittling down to ‘the most likely Buick-based Korean or Chinese-sourced contenders’.

So the problem runs deeper.

Ford does not have the same problem (and for Toyota, what problem?). Ford has been able to let the Falcon and Territory slowly settle in the waves.

Each is selling, and collectively Territory and Falcon account for one-in-four of all Ford sales (12,442 out of 45,911 Ford sales YTD) but, unlike the Commodore, neither is the drawcard to Ford showrooms they once were.

Ford has a new ‘leader of the pack’, the Ranger. It picked up 2096 sales last month, compared to the Commodore’s (all derivatives) 2767, the Falcon’s 729 sales (ute and sedan) and the Territory’s 784.

The Ranger has captured the imagination of buyers and is getting stronger. And while the Mondeo and Focus have performed dismally for Ford, come 2017, the transition to a Falcon-less, Territory-less future will be nothing like the nightmare confronting Holden.

So, in the Commodore, here is a product that holds one-third of GM sales in this market and is widely considered to be among the best sedans produced anywhere in the GM stable.

It was also exported to critical acclaim into the US (but, as the expensive Chevrolet SS, with very limited sales) and to similar acclaim in other small volume markets like New Zealand and the UK.

And – ironically, but, yes, too late – with an Aussie dollar heading back to its record lows of 15 years ago (and likely to stay that way for years), that Chevvy SS finds itself, again, with very favourable dollar terms.

And it is this product that GM, which is struggling everywhere outside of North America, is going to kill.

There are some geniuses in that boardroom.

At least they know they stuffed it up. Earlier this year, GM Vice-president of international relations Stefan Jacoby conceded that he was “the one who decided to stop production in Australia” and also conceded to “have underestimated the uncertainty of our customers (in Australia)”.

Uncertainty? Short of a miracle – and it won’t be found in the Camaro that is widely mooted to be headed this way – he might just about have cooked GM’s goose in this market.

As 2015 new car sales show, and the chasm in sales between Commodore and everything else in its stable, Holden can’t seem to shake off the view that its Korean-sourced products are ‘mid-pack’ at best.

And, yes, ageing it may be, and adrift of GM’s global plans, but whatever will Holden do without Commodore?

- Tim O'Brien
TMR Managing Editor

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