Ed’s let­ter

STAND­ING ON THE SHINY TILES OF THE DEAL­ER­SHIP, HIS TIE A PER­FECT WIND­SOR, HIS POS­TURE RE­LAXED AND CON­FI­DENT, DAVID BUT­TNER LOOKS RE­MARK­ABLY CALM. HOLDEN’S NEW BOSS HAS ONLY BEEN IN THE JOB FOR FOUR HOURS, HIS FIRST DAY SCHED­ULED TO BE A WHIRL­WIND OF DEALE

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents -

But right now, the 64-year-old is fronting the press, our recorders thrust to­wards his chin, the dance of hard ques­tions, hon­est an­swers and de­flected re­sponses about to be­gin. You’d for­give him for feel­ing ap­pre­hen­sive. Over­whelmed. Afraid, even. Af­ter all, there’s no es­cap­ing the re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion he’s will­ingly walked into, or the mag­ni­tude of the (im­pos­si­ble?) task ahead of him.

As dis­as­trous years go, Holden’s has been a doozy. In March it recorded its worst monthly sales fig­ure since the com­pany’s in­cep­tion in 1948, a sting­ing re­sult only made worse by its July num­ber, which at 3927, was even lower. Falls from grace don’t get much more spec­tac­u­lar. Holden’s mar­ket share now sits at 5.3 per­cent, half of what it was just five years ago, and a shadow of the glory days in the early 2000s when it lounged at 21 per­cent.

Even more sober­ing is the fact that of Holden’s en­tire prod­uct port­fo­lio, only Colorado and Com­modore are within the top five of their com­peti­tor set. “Surely that’s proof that Aus­tralia has fallen out of love with Holden,” ar­gues the me­dia scrum.

Holden’s at­tempt to rad­i­cally re­de­fine the brand has only com­pounded the prob­lem. Strange ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns, medi­ocre prod­uct short on show­room ap­peal, and the lack of a suc­cess­ful longterm strategy has meant the Lion Brand hasn’t only failed in its des­per­ate bid to reach a new, younger cus­tomer, but alien­ated a large por­tion of its loyal fan base. But­tner’s ap­point­ment is the first piece of good news in a long while; a de­ci­sion that, fi­nally, no one can take a shot at. Holden’s own PR team seems stunned, say­ing, eyes wide, “Wow, we got But­tner!”

That’s a lot of pres­sure to place on one per­son, though But­tner’s track record is im­pres­sive. A for­mer MD and 30-year vet­eran of Toy­ota (he ac­tu­ally re­tired in De­cem­ber 2017), But­tner is an Aussie who has risen through the ranks of Aus­tralia’s most suc­cess­ful car brand. He knows what’s it’s like to be num­ber one and brings a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing supremely or­gan­ised, hard work­ing and dili­gent. He’s no stranger to pres­sure ei­ther, having worked with top-level Ja­panese ex­ecs on the shut­ter­ing of Toy­ota’s Aussie man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties all the while un­der in­tense me­dia scru­tiny.

Holden presents an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent chal­lenge, how­ever. It isn’t a com­pany that re­quires man­ag­ing on the way down but one in dire need of a firm, charis­matic hand to push it back up. It needs a leader will­ing to blue with Detroit, to ar­gue for bet­ter prod­uct, and to gal­vanise, and pos­si­bly ra­tio­nalise, Holden’s 200-strong dealer net­work. In­ter­est­ingly, other im­porters with sim­i­lar mar­ket share such as Kia, Honda and Volk­swa­gen have 134, 107 and 105 deal­ers re­spec­tively.

But­tner has given him­self 60 days (likely 30 by the time you read this), to visit Holden’s deal­ers and stake­hold­ers be­fore he im­ple­ments his plan to ar­rest the slide. Through­out our in­ter­view he re­mains un­flap­pable, slowly and sys­tem­at­i­cally out­lin­ing his de­sire to unify the com­pany, to cre­ate a clear strate­gic di­rec­tion built around Equinox and Aca­dia, and to re­con­nect with Holden’s fan base while si­mul­ta­ne­ously ap­peal­ing to new cus­tomers. He also speaks openly of his own passion for Holden (a bond fos­tered by his Holden-buy­ing fa­ther) and his con­vic­tion that the brand still holds a strong con­nec­tion to Aus­tralians.

I think he’s right. It may have lost its way slightly but to many peo­ple, in­clud­ing me, Holden still feels like Aus­tralia’s own. We want it to suc­ceed. To turn the cor­ner, to once again cre­ate great cars that suit our roads and tastes.

Af­ter years of tur­moil, But­tner’s ar­rival pro­vides the first glim­mer of be­lief that it can.

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