Inchcape is going to have a mammoth task on its hands if it buys Holden, writes Matt Calvitto
Reports are emerging that General Motors is planning to divest itself from the Australian market, and sell its local subsidiary Holden, to English-based company, Inchcape.
Let’s be frank: the sale or potential demise of the Red Lion brand isn’t hugely surprising. Sales have spiralled month on month since local production ended in October 2017. The death of the excellent Aussie made Commodore and Caprice ranges were considered the death of Aussie icons and angered customers and fans alike.
Similarly, slapping “Commodore” and “Calais” badges onto imported Opel Insignias – that, in isolation are quite decent vehicles – infuriated fans further: no rear-wheel drive, no V8 and gasp, even a diesel option. What on earth!
Then there was the debacle with Captiva and Cruze reliability backed up with shitty customer support. Not to mention strong competition from foreign brands. As such, Australians have largely turned their backs on Holden and sales have continued to spiral since that fateful month in 2017. Sales have been so bad, the new boss of Holden, and ex-Toyota chief, Dave Buttner ordered temporary cease production of the Equinox SUV and the German Commodore. Read more about that here.
As such, GM has supposedly given up on the 163 year-old Australian company which it is owned for 88 years and most likely Australia itself. Inchcape, for those of you who don’t know, is the company is responsible for the importation, sales and distribution of Subaru, Peugeot and Citroen vehicles Down Under. Peugeot and Citroen are owned by a company called PSA, which also owns Opel. More on that later.
Now, the two brands are supposedly in talks about what to do with the ailing Red Lion. Inchcape has allegedly engaged a large accounting firm to comb through Holden’s books to determine if the acquisition is worthwhile.
If the sale does indeed go ahead, Inchcape has a huge task on its hands. It needs to re-invent a brand that Australians have once adored but now have grown to despise. So image is a huge issue. Then, there’s the issue of a product portfolio.
At present the Colorado is Holden’s biggest seller, and the all-new seven-seat Acadia SUV shows promise and pick-up trucks and seven-seats SUVs are often must haves for manufacturers in Australia. Even Benz got on the ute bandwagon with the X-Class.
Anyway, at the moment, and probably for the near foreseeable future, none of Inchcape’s brands have big SUVs on utes in their ranges. So that may mean that Inchcape may need to forge an agreement with GM to continue importing these models.
However, it’s not clear what Inchcape will do when those models end their lifecycles. Import the next generation versions? Perhaps, but they mightn’t necessarily be suitable for Australian markets or available in right hand drive.
Passenger cars are less of a worry, PSA and Opel are collaborating on replacements for the next-generation Corsa, Astra, Insignia and PSA have a range of quirky small SUVs. So that’s taken care of. Don’t count on a V8 re-joining the stable, unless Inchcape can work some magic with GM.
There may be an unorthodox solution to the ute problem, and this is just one of my mad theories, but it’s a possibility, so bear with me. In Europe, Opel/Vauxhall have an agreement with Renault whereby it sells its vans as its own light commercial vehicle range. Renault has another commercial vehicle up its sleeve, the Alaskan, which, you guessed it is a ute. Which is based on the Nissan Navara. See what I’m getting at?
If the deal does go ahead, GM will most likely retain its research and development centres in Port Melbourne along with the Lang Lang proving ground and the firm will probably continue to design and develop cars in Oz, just not sell them here.
As for the Holden name, well I doubt anybody will flinch if Inchcape decides to retire it. The majority of Australians believe that Holden died when local production ended so the reintroduction of the Opel name is a logical possibility.
Whatever happens and if the transaction does take place, Inchcape must learn from Holden’s mistakes and listen to, and deliver what customers want.