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Buttner kicks off new era at Holden

New beginnings: After 30 years with Toyota Australia, Dave Buttner’s focus now is to turn around Holden’s sales slide.

Former Toyota Australia boss says Holden can grow its sales and market share

1 Aug 2018

NEW GM Holden chairman and managing director Dave Buttner has laid out his initial impressions and early aspirations for the struggling car-maker after taking over the top job from Mark Bernhard today.
Mr Buttner caused shockwaves through the industry in mid-July when he was announced as the new head of Holden, following his retirement at the end of last year as Toyota Australia president after a 30-year stint with the Japanese brand.
He takes the reins at Holden during a period of upheaval following the closure of its Australian manufacturing operations last year, while its sales and market share have slid to their lowest point in the company’s long history.
Speaking with journalists at Melbourne City Holden today, Mr Buttner said his initial priorities in the role would be to connect with the dealer network and Holden employees to better understand their needs and concerns.
“The first priority is, over the next 60 days, I am meeting with the dealer council executive committee today – I actually met with them two weeks ago,” he said. “I will meet with the Victorian metropolitan dealers today and then starting next Tuesday, I will start moving around Australia to meet, in the first instance, all of the dealer council members at their dealership. 
“And I will be having discussions with employees within the company. I want to get the antenna in the air. So I want to understand first hand the issues on people’s mind in relation to the brand and the franchise.
“And then in having that understanding, that puts me in better stead to go forward with the management team and all of the people inside Holden to make the appropriate decisions to ensure we drive the brand forward.”
Mr Buttner said it was unrealistic to think that Holden could return to the top of the overall sales charts in Australia – a place now occupied by his former employer, Toyota – and instead highlighted more pressing priorities.
“Number one is always an interesting position. You have to ask yourself, do you want to be number one … and to have that aspiration at this juncture I think would be naive for me to be quite truthful. 
“We have to get on the consideration set, increase awareness and work with our dealers to ensure that the brand can get back to a level where it is profitable for both the dealers and profitable for ourselves as well.”
While he declined to say where he thought Holden’s natural place in the top 10 selling brands is, Mr Buttner said the goal was to grow market share.
“I think time will tell that story. But our aspirations are to grow volume and share over time. I cannot at this juncture be specific or prescriptive in terms of what that timeframe may be.”
Holden’s sales and market share have gone from 123,437 units and a 17.1 per cent share back in 1997, to 146,680 and 14 per cent in 2007, dropping to 90,306 and 7.6 per cent in 2017.
Mr Buttner said one of the key factors in turning around a sales slide as big as Holden’s was to ensure the company was offering the best products in the most critical segments.
“When you look at the product coming in now in those super competitive (segments) Colorado is already there, Equinox which we all agree we need to get a bit more consideration on, Acadia coming. These are products in the growth segments in the Australian market. If you have got product there, it’s recognised, its reputation is solid, then that is where you are going to get your growth.”
While it is important for Holden to continue to appeal to its base, Mr Buttner said the company had to attract new customers if it wanted to grow its sales.
“I think you have to very careful where you target yourself. And to grow any business, there are two aspects. There is the loyalty – those people who have stuck by you and supported you and come back and buy a Holden as a matter of course because they have always loved the product and they have loved the service they had. 
“But is that enough, just relying on loyalty to grow yourself over time? Probably not. So you have to look at conquests as well. Now conquests, a lot of that is word of mouth, having the right product, driving value for money, showing that when somebody rocks up a dealership they are treated well. Those things are important. We have to look at loyalty as well as conquests.”
He added that the shift in consumer preference away from traditional passenger cars in Australia meant that Holden had to concentrate more on increasingly popular segments such as SUVs and pick-ups.
“We have seen the global trend of SUVs starting to dominate the marketplace, so we have to make sure we have got the product, to appeal to what is perhaps a different set of guests and customers we have engaged with in the past. 
“I say that on the understanding that at the same time, product like Colorado, I still believe is an iconic product for the brand. Because you look at the sales of that product over time – I think June was about 2500 (units) – so it is still strongly contributing to the volume for Holden.”
When asked if Australian consumers had fallen out of love with Holden in recent years, Mr Buttner said he was encouraged by positive messages of support for him and the brand following news of his appointment to the role. 
“Since the 14th of July, I have had a lot of emails, texts, LinkedIn messages from colleagues, friends and family, and I honestly thought in my heart that the brand still held a very, very strong connection with Australia and Australians. And that was even reinforced tenfold frankly from the messages I had. So I think there is still a connection there, but we have to make sure that the connection is current, and the connection meets the customers needs.”
GM’s local design and engineering teams would play a role in ensuring Holden still maintained an Australian “flavour”, despite the fact that vehicles are no longer produced here, Mr Buttner said.
“I think the fact that there is a very strong design, development and engineering (team) in Australia, you can still bring that flavour. You are never going to replicate the fact you built cars here once. That is history. And that has gone by the wayside for the last three manufacturers that finished last year. 
“We have to make sure the brand today is relevant. There is a strong place in people’s hearts for the brand. So we have to make sure they understand who we are today, what we have to offer, and how we can drive customer centricity in every touch point in the value chain to deliver the best experience they could possibly have.”
As GoAuto has reported, Holden dropped about 30 dealers from its network in mid last year because of its shrinking market share, but Mr Buttner said he had no plans to further consolidate the circa-200-strong dealer network.
“I think market representation is really important for the brand. We can argue backwards and forwards over if it is too few or too many (dealers), but you have to ensure that you have dealers in the right locations, both in metro and rural Australia, to service the customer’s needs. 
“There has been some rationalisation of the dealer network in recent times, but I believe that the network we have now is the network we need to work with continuing in the future.”


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