Holden’s focus on local production has set back its showroom by years, says GM exec

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The man in charge of General Motors in our region believes Holden’s focus on local manufacturing has set back its ability to have “a truly competitive product line” by several years.

GM International president Stefan Jacoby, who took up his current role in August 2013 just months before signing off on the closure of Holden’s manufacturing operations, told CarAdvice the company had been guilty in the past of focusing too heavily on local production – in particular the Commodore – and is suffering today because of it.

“I believe so,” Jacoby said candidly when asked if Holden’s local preoccupation has slowed the introduction of other core models to its showrooms.

“We had been more focused on filling up our capacities in Australia and maintaining orders in a segment like a [large] car, like the Commodore, a segment which is drying out naturally, instead of really looking at what’s in demand and delivering out of a global portfolio, as our competitors are doing.”

Holden sales have plummeted over the past decade, falling from 178,027 in 2004 to 106,092 in 2014. Sales so far this year are down 9.3 per cent, leaving Holden in serious danger of selling fewer than 100,000 cars for the first time since the 1950s.

The company recently abandoned the overly ambitious target of becoming the number one vehicle brand in Australia by 2020 set by former managing director Gerry Dorizas in April last year, with Jacoby this week announcing that “we want to have our fair share in the market and we want to make most use out of this iconic brand”.

Jacoby says Holden is now focused on introducing quality cars in key segments and following through with its plan to launch 24 new or significantly updated models to its local showrooms by the end of the decade.

“We need to have more segments with a proper competitive entry and this is the next level. That’s exactly where we want to compete. We have [those cars overseas], that’s what’s so obvious. We have that in our global portfolio. We just have to make it actually happen for the Australian market.

“I think now since we made the tough call at the end of 2013 we [have] really embraced our ability globally to have a tailor-made product portfolio in Australia. That will take now an extra two to three years, but then we are truly competitive with our product portfolio.

“It takes a couple of years obviously because it’s embedded into our global product strategy and you only can phase in when these global products come to life.”

Jacoby believes Holden should have been much quicker to introduce the five-door Astra hatchback (the current model was sold here as part of the failed Opel venture earlier this decade, while the all-new model arrives in the second half of 2016) and says there are a number of SUVs offered in the US that likewise could have strengthened the brand’s stocks.

Holden’s job hasn’t been made any easier by the fact that General Motors scaled back development of right-hand-drive models around the time of the company’s bankruptcy, though GM CEO Mary Barra this week promised more RHD cars thanks to its “much more planned and very proactive” attitude to markets like ours.