Holden boss Dave Buttner has delivered a scathing knockdown of the recently reported distribution takeover proposal – telling dealers in a confidential meeting on Friday it is “absolutely no way, not happening” and dismissing the proposal as “pure scuttlebutt”.
According to several dealers present at the national conference at Melbourne’s Flemington racecourse last Friday, Mr Buttner reportedly said to the gathering: “I’m looking directly at you. Believe me, it’s not going to happen. There is no plan (to change distribution). I did not join the company to close Holden”.
It is the first time Holden has emphatically denied there are any imminent changes to the distribution of its cars in Australia.
Last week both Holden and importer Inchcape refused to pour cold water on a report by the Australian Financial Review that the independent distributor was “running the numbers” on taking over responsibility of Holden cars locally.
The media statement from General Motors said it is “fully focused on … building a strong Holden for the future, as it remains an important part of GM’s business” while Inchcape said “we are always assessing a range of opportunities and initiatives in support of our Ignite strategy”.
In last Friday’s high-level dealer meeting – that had been planned since late last year and was not organised in reaction to reports about a possible change in distribution – Holden dealers didn’t get to see any new cars, but they were given a preview of a new marketing campaign, designed to focus more heavily on its range of SUVs and the Colorado ute.
“The dealers I spoke to were very happy by the end of it and I was very happy with it,” said one confidential dealer source. “Dave gave a very strong denial about the reports about Inchcape and you know what? I believe him. I think it is scuttlebutt. He stood there and looked us all in the eye and said it wasn’t happening.”
Another dealer who attended the meeting said Holden admitted it tried to alter its marketing image “too far and too quickly” following the closure of its car assembly line in October 2017. “They kept telling us ‘we’ve listened to the public and we’re going to get this right, stick with us’,” said another dealer source.
Holden has a hard road ahead but a turnaround is not impossible. In January 2019, Holden was overtaken by both Korean sister brands Hyundai and Kia for the first time ever, ranking seventh on the Top 10 sellers list. In 2018, Holden was beaten by Ford for the first time in 21 years as sales hit their lowest since 1961.
CarAdvice understands there are no major new models due in Holden showrooms in 2019 but key models are due to receive updates in the next 18 months.
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling