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Monaro godfather admits Holden has 'mountain to climb'

Mike Simcoe says Holden faces a challenge to regain popularity in Australia, but that its broad choice of products will help.

Holden has a significant amount of work to do to rebuild its position in the Australian marketplace but will continue to selectively source models from General Motors’ extensive international portfolio to craft its own unique product line-up, according to GM vice-president of global design Mike Simcoe.

Speaking on the Cadillac stand at last week’s New York motor show, Mr Simcoe – an Australian who is well known Down Under as the chief designer of the Holden Monaro – admitted Holden faces challenges in the future but was confident it could keep customers by getting them behind the wheel of its new products.

“We clearly have a mountain down there to climb,” he said. “And the only way you are going to do that is to convince people to get back and look at the product. You can do all of the pitching you want, but without product and people’s bums in seats and experiencing it, then it’s always going to be down.”

According to Mr Simcoe, many Australians had the incorrect assumption that Holden was leaving the Australian market following the conclusion of local manufacturing last October.

“I think the perception down the marketplace for whatever reason was that Holden was going out of business,” he said.

The Lion Brand is currently in the middle of a product overhaul with 24 new models being launched by 2020

“The announcement of the closure of manufacturing turned into ‘the brand is leaving the country’ and obviously there is a huge negative reaction to that. People feeling let down. The Holden brand is quintessentially the car, truck brand for Australia.

“Whenever you guys start talking about vehicles or brands, you don’t hear much about Toyota or Ford. You hear Holden always. If there is a general reference to automotive, it drops to Holden. Which is good and bad. It means you are thinking about Holden, the public think about Holden, but sometimes it is in a negative context as well.”

The Lion Brand is currently in the middle of a product overhaul with 24 new models being launched by 2020, while also increasing its focus on improved customer and aftersales service programs.

Last month marked the launch of the all-new, Opel-sourced Commodore, however Holden will look to the SUV segment to regain lost sales from the death of the Aussie-built large sedan.

Models such as the recently-launched Mexican-sourced Equinox mid-sizer and forthcoming US-built Acadia large SUV are tipped to do the heavy lifting for Holden, as SUVs become increasingly popular with buyers.

Its current line-up is sourced from a range of GM operations including GMC in the US, Chevrolet in Thailand, North America and South Korea and Opel in Germany, meaning that a common design language is difficult to achieve.

Mr Simcoe said that while a unified design theme was important, the benefits of cherry picking models from a wide portfolio would be beneficial to the brand.

“I think the nice thing for Holden as a whole is that it gets to choose, it looks across all brands and gets to choose what it likes,” he said.

“There will be some character in the brand itself in the showroom. But it will be a mix of different vehicles.”

He conceded that some brands, for example luxury American marque Cadillac, may not be available for Holden.

With GM selling its European Opel and Vauxhall brands to the French-owned PSA Group, Holden will have to decide where it wants to source its next-generation Astra and Commodore replacement, and that while it may be able to source Opel models from its new owners, GM-sourced models from North America and Asia would be the more likely route.

Mr  Simcoe said his role was to ensure that every brand under the GM umbrella had its own identifiable design language.

According to Mr Simcoe, GM Design Australia, based in Melbourne, would continue to work on projects for the global markets.

“We did a big EV show internally about two weeks ago and a number of the virtual products and physical products came out of Australia. And that’s what we use them for,” he said.

“The studios globally we use for different opinion. If you are not in Detroit, then you think differently. So we are centred in Detroit but we have lots of opinions globally.”

Mr Simcoe said his role was to ensure that every brand under the GM umbrella had its own identifiable design language.

“My job is to continue the momentum each of the brands have. There is good separation there already, both in appearance, and in ethic and message and message about the brands themselves,” he said.

“We are locked into that, and all we will do is keep on making them more obviously different. The appearance of the vehicles will start to get more and more bold and more and more separate.”

Mr Simcoe first started as a designer at Holden in 1983, rising through the ranks to become the head of the GM International design team in 2014 and vice-president of global design in 2016.

Can Holden return to its popularity of yesteryear with GM-sourced models? Tell us what you think in the comments below.