An impressive suite of safety and technology features, plus a zippier engine, is expected to spark new life into Holden’s baby car – so long as the price is right.
CURRENCY condition changes since an initial pricing scope was undertaken has hindered Holden New Zealand from yet cementing the price for the new version of its smallest car but won’t delay the introduction.
The new generation Spark, which though more heavily engineered by Holden this time is still sourced from South Korea for us (as a world car it is also a Chevrolet, an Opel and a Vauxhall), is being touted as a future star, good enough to steal a lead from the chart-topping Mitsubishi Mirage in the growing sub-$20,000 baby car sector.
Even though Holden has asserted it will launch in March, it also says the pricing is still being worked on and that resolution might be a week or so away.
“We are too’ing and fro’ing at the moment because, of course, the foreign exchange rates have come down significantly since we put together our pricing recommendations last year,” Marnie Samphier, Holden NZ’s general manager of marketing has told Motoring Network.
“We’re just reviewing that at the moment and hope to have something out in the next week or so.”
Brand intention to keep the new addition at or near price parity with the old, one of the cheapest new cars on the market at $16,990 in manual and $2000 more in automatic, is proving difficult.
But Samphier agrees Holden is being careful not to stray too far because, in this class, every cent is carefully considered.
However, it seems likely the car must be bought in US dollars and, with $US1 being worth $NZ1.49 at the moment, trying to stay cheap is a challenge.
Holden sees big opportunity for the next Spark. It says the small car sector is growing and is also one of the best new buyer catchments.
“That segment accounted for 11 percent of the overall market last year and growth was up 12 percent on the year before. We can’t see that trend abating, with people downsizing into cars that traditionally have been small but are becoming bigger.”
Ironically, while steadily lowering fuel prices probably make some thirstier alternates more palatable, they don’t seem to stymie the babies; it just leaves impression that a cheap choice car will be even cheaper to run.
“I think the purchase price of the car is the primary factor, along with ongoing maintenance and running costs.”
Holden, though, is in catch-up. While Samphier would not reveal the volume expectation for this year, she says the old car had been “a disappointment” in achieving just 342 registrations in 2014.
“We weren’t happy with last year at all because it was a growth segment and we really didn’t get our share.”
She acknowledged the outgoing car’s age didn’t help. “It was obviously a very old product and we didn’t do a lot of promotion with it.”
Maintaining price parity with the old car might be a long shot but apparently one Holden is nonetheless aiming for because the sector is so dollar sensitive.
Effectively, though, new and old are similar in name only. Not only is the newcomer entirely new, smarter-looking and repowered, with a 73kW/128Nm 1.4-litre petrol replacing the old 63kW 1.2, matched to a CVT (or five-speed manual), and delivering a higher specification – including being the first to deliver in class to deliver Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity as standard – it is also arriving in two specification levels, LS and LT, whereas the now sold-out outgoing model was in a single CD format.
However Samphier says the value equation is the biggest single component when selling a small car, given that for many people it is set to be their first brand-new vehicle.
“It is a car in a segment that is commonly very responsive to advertising. I think with the confidence in the product, and some really clever promotion behind it, we really are expecting some great things (with the new car).
“It really is going to be a segment leader in terms of the technology and what we would be hoping to do is convince people who might have intended to look for a second hand car that, for maybe not a lot more than can have a brand-new one.”
She suggested it has not been uncommon in the past for small cars to be denied latest features, including for safety, in order to stay within a sharp price band, but that was not Holden’s intention with Spark.
“Often that segment has traditionally been overlooked in terms of the content that goes into the car to get the right price point … even safety features are traditionally not always up to the standard that you expect in new cars. We’re really going to break the mold.”
Echoing that view, Holden NZ boss Kristian Aquilina has offered: “There is now no reason why a micro-car buyer should settle for micro levels of technology.“
Regardless, Samphier says, it still had to be competitively priced and the number-crunching is keeping Holden occupied.
“That’s what we are looking at now … to see if we can be as aggressive with that price given that it is significantly enhanced … we need to see if we can be as aggressive with that pricing given the situation with the foreign exchange and those sorts of factors.”
In addition to the $19,990 Mitsubishi Mirage, other rivals will likely include the Suzuki Celerio ($15,990 and $17,500), $19,750 Nissan Micra and Fiat’s 500, which starts at $19,990.
Holden says this Spark benefits from its own engineering input in developing the suspension and ride and handling tuning, both in Australia and in South Korea where the car will be built.
Holden director of vehicle performance Ian Butler says the suspension, steering and ride and handling development conducted on Australian soil by Holden engineers has helped ensure it is perfectly suited to local conditions.
“We have been working with GM Korea since the beginning of the programme and were able to collaborate to ensure the car is agile and nimble in urban environments, whilst remaining composed and comfortable on the open road.
“Key to developing the drive characteristics, was a significant round of testing and development at our Lang Lang proving ground conducted by our engineers, in addition to giving target customers the chance to evaluate the car.
“We’re confident the all-new Spark will set a new benchmark for the micro-car segment.”
The Holden and Chevrolet editions have an identical grille and headlight combo, foglight housing and even the same wheels.
Though exterior design is sharper, cabin space is “comparable” to the outgoing model – but the interior materials are much improved.
In terms of safety equipment, the Spark features six airbags, ESC, hill-start assist, electronic brakeforce distribution, ABS, traction control and a reversing camera on the high-end variant.
The Spark is the latest salvo in Holden's new model onslaught that will see 24 new models launched by 2020.