Ready to call time? Not yet

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Showroom - PAUL GOVER CHIEF REPORTER paul.gover@carsguide.com.au

HOLDEN is in trou­ble. Big trou­ble.

It’s not the death of the Com­modore in the back end of 2016 that’s ring­ing alarm bells, but the cars the com­pany is sell­ing to­day along­side it.

The lo­cally made Cruze is off the pace of the Volk­swa­gen Golf and the rest of the Holden fam­ily — ex­clud­ing the funky lit­tle Ba­rina RS and the tough Colorado work­horse — are only jour­ney­man play­ers in the world’s most com­pet­i­tive show­room com­pe­ti­tion.

They will need to get a lot bet­ter by the time the bright halo from the Com­modore is re­moved and the red lion brand sheds the lo­cal leg­end sta­tus it’s so as­sid­u­ously cul­ti­vated since the 48-215.

The ba­sic fail­ing of the Holden line-up is the Korean con­nec­tion that was forged to cut de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion costs on the ma­jor­ity of its im­ported mod­els. It looked like a smart move on the money front, as well as pro­vid­ing cost-ef­fec­tive cars that could be sold with a Chevro­let badge into a range of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

But the rest of the car world has gone global, a move that has al­lowed their cars to be much bet­ter and still af­ford­able, and the long-term re­duc­tion of lo­cal pro­tec­tion and the strength of the Aus­tralian dol­lar means we’ve never had bet­ter cars at cheaper prices. To see which way the wind blows, look at the price of the new Golf and the Benz A-Class.

The two big Korean brands, Hyundai and Kia, have also ac­cel­er­ated their prod­uct de­vel­op­ment in Holden’s tra­di­tional heart­land while also tap­ping strongly into Aus­tralian tun­ing to make their cars more pop­u­lar for lo­cal roads and driv­ers. It took Holden two years, a new trans­mis­sion and en­gine to make the Cruze the car it is now. Holden’s other Dae­woo-built prod­uct is not in the hunt.

Even Ford, which called time on the Fal­con and Ter­ri­tory, has a bet­ter line-up than the red lion. Taken model-by-model, its con­tenders — in­clud­ing the Euro­pean Fi­esta/Fo­cus/ Mon­deo — are bet­ter cars than the equiv­a­lent Hold­ens. Ford’s tra­di­tion­ally in­ept mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions mean they trail in the sales.

So, what does it all mean for Holden and the peo­ple — in­clud­ing the Carsguide crew — who want to see the brand sur­vive as some­thing more than an au­to­mo­tive Aldi?

Holden has four years to get things right. That means good cars and good value prices, with a tan­gi­ble con­nec­tion to the Com­modore and the ta­lented crew who built for the best Aus­tralian car of all time.

The good news is that Fish­er­mans Bend has some ta­lented peo­ple and they are aware of the prob­lem.

Bet­ter news is that GM is chang­ing its prod­uct fo­cus and that the man in charge is for­mer Holden pres­i­dent Mark Reuss, one of the most ta­lented chiefs at Holden HQ. So we’re ex­pect­ing Euro­pean-style engineering at Korean-style prices, al­though not a cut-price Com­modore from China.

Holden is los­ing its Lang Lang prov­ing ground, and far too many of its engineering team, but there will still be de­sign­ers at Fish­er­mans Bend af­ter 2017 and the com­pany prom­ises it will have early in­put to the home rooms for fu­ture global prod­ucts and sign-off re­spon­si­bil­ity for the fi­nal tweak­ing of any­thing to be sold in Aus­tralia.

“Un­der this busi­ness model, we will have ac­cess to cars from across the GM global net­work,” says Holden spokesman Ge­orge Svi­gos.

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