Holden's head office could be closed by its parent company General Motors and switch to importing cars via an independent distributor, according to a confidential proposal revealed by the Australian Financial Review newspaper.
If the proposal went ahead, customers would be unlikely to see the difference, because Holden cars would continue to be sold in Australia through the existing dealer network.
A statement from Inchcape issued to CarAdvice said: “We are always assessing a range of opportunities and initiatives in support of our Ignite strategy and we do not comment on speculation.”
The statement from General Motors issued to the Australian Financial Review did not refute the speculation:
“Under the leadership of [GM Holden CEO] Dave Buttner, who was appointed in August last year, we are turning around the Holden business, growing sales, re-engaging and re-energising our distribution network and launching exciting vehicles like the all-new Acadia. We are fully focused on supporting Dave in building a strong Holden for the future, as it remains an important part of GM's business.”
When contacted for further comment, Holden repeated the above statement.
It is not uncommon for cars to be handled by independent distributors in Australia; local operations get economies of scale by sharing backroom costs across several brands.
However, only one Top 10 brand – Subaru – is sold by an independent importer, the rest are local subsidiaries of their parent companies.
Inchcape is understood to be keen to bolster its distribution portfolio following sales slowdowns across the three main brands it already represents in Australia.
Subaru sales fell 4.8 per cent last year, Peugeot was down by 16.3 per cent while Citroen had the biggest drop, down by 32.8 per cent. Inchcape also owns the Trivett prestige dealership group in Australia, whose luxury brands have also been hit with sharp declines.
The combined sales of the three Inchcape-distributed brands (Subaru, Peugeot and Citroen) in 2018 totalled 53,300 – not far from Holden’s 2018 tally of 60,700 – so it could be feasible for Inchcape to handle the logistics of Holden’s operations.
Holden sales are now less than half what they were a decade ago, after eight consecutive years in decline.
Buyers have not embraced the new imported Commodore. Holden’s revamped and more comprehensive SUV line-up is also yet to find broad appeal.
According to industry insiders, Subaru Australia is seen as the “golden goose” for Inchcape globally, delivering more profit per vehicle sold per head office employee than any of its other operations.
The Subaru Australia office has a staff of about 100 employees whereas Holden has more than 300 white-collar workers and sells about the same number of cars.
CarAdvice understands if the proposal were to go ahead, Holden’s 350 designers and engineers would remain within the General Motors fold as they are already part of the global vehicle development team, based at Holden's Port Melbourne studios and the Lang Lang proving ground.