Selling a non-Aussie Commodore

How will Kiwis receive the new ZB Commodore – how will Holden convince us that it’s the car to have?


HERE’S something we surely all agree on in respect to the ZB Commodore: The nameplate it takes is iconic and has no small amount of emotion attached to it.

Is that a help or a hindrance to those who have to sell this new kind of sizzle?

Holden says this is the right time for a new kind of Commodore. The market has changed and this made-in-Germany ZB has to reflect those changes. Still, it accepts there’s no small challenge to selling the benefits.

We cornered Holden New Zealand’s marketing boss Marnie Samphier to ask her about how Holden aims to win over an old – and new – crowd when the car hits the showroom in April.

MotoringNZ: What is the theme of the ZB commodore marketing push and why was it chosen?

Marnie Samphier: “The marketing push is very much about ‘unexpected.’ We’re saying ‘don’t judge it until you have tried it’, I think you will be very surprised at just how good this car is. It’s reflecting the fact that there are people who find it hard to believe this can be a Commodore because it’s not a V8 and it’s not a rear-wheel drive. We’re saying this car is every bit as good as the current Commodore and arguably  it’s got so much more in it.”

MNZ: Every family has a hero; your boss Kristian Aquilina suggested last year that for NZ it will be the Tourer. Is this still the case and why?

MS: “Yes and I guess it’s reflective of the lifestyle of Kiwis. There’s this love affair of SUV but I do believe there are other people out there that don’t necessarily want that high ride height – I’m a perfect example, I like being a little closer to the road and to enjoy that experience that you don’t necessarily get with an SUV. I think there is that audience and that this car will absolutely fill that spot. I think the VXR is awesome.”

MNZ: What degree of changeover from the previous Commodore to ZB will occur and, if so, what models will those customers come from and which ones will they go to?

MS: “I think it is going to be very interesting. It’s a really hard one to pick. We don’t pre-suppose anything. I think that the VXR is an unbelievably exciting ride, I think the Tourer gives all sorts of flexibility that people are going to love … but we have not mapped, model-by-model, what people are going to move to.”

MNZ: You have one big fleet customer confirmed for the greater part of this car’s production life, the NZ Police: ultimately, though, what will this car’s success rest more on – business (meaning rental and fleet) or private sales?

MS: “Traditionally Commodore has been, largely, a business buy. We don’t see huge amounts from a private buyer perspective. But actually we think this (ZB) gives us more opportunity to appeal to that private buyers because of the breadth of the range and the different variants we are introducing. The fact that it is all-wheel-drive and that we are also introducing diesel. So I think we will continue the success we have had I the business market but, equally, we will add more appeal to that private buyer.”

MNZ: Kristian Aquilina suggested last year that some models launching now will be under review from launch and might be pulled if they do not perform; we think he means the diesels - diesel cars are low volume now. Is this correct and is this the policy? (Note, Holden did not have a diesel on the press drive programme, citing logistical difficulties -  that it had just one car for 24 journalists).

MS: “Certainly we will look at the range. We did try to to rationalise (with two fewer variants than Australia) and not complicate things, particularly for our dealers. We have taken the stance “let’s put it out there, let the public decide’ and we will rationalise from there. I don’t think Kristian’s view was specifically around the diesel. I think it is more around some of the specification levels that we might find are superfluous. It will be interesting to see what happens. I think we will get a good gauge over the next six months.”

MNZ: Holden NZ has become reluctant to share volume aspirations - will you share the in-house target for ZB?

MS: “No.”

MNZ: Will you comment on whether this figure is equal to, higher than or lower to last year’s VF count (3173 units)? 

“All I will say is that there is no doubt that there are some of our current owners will not buy this car because it is not a V8. At the same time, we think we are going to bring in a new audience. Can we achieve the same numbers that we have had? That would be fantastic.”

MNZ: Does knowing that the car will only be in production for six years affect the marketing proposition; do you also sense there is perception this could well be the last Commodore?

MS: “Absolutely not. No. The Commodore name has been around for 40 years and we’re celebrating that. We are going to market in the same way we do with any new model. What the future looks like – well who knows? But that’s the same with any new car that we launch.”