Holden NZ boss hoping to u-turn brand’s dismal home run

Holden NZ’s boss has a new additional 'superman' role - resetting the brand’s fortunes in Australia.


THE man who has kept Holden sitting steady in New Zealand now has an additional duty – bringing it back to health in Australia, where a disastrous first quarter performance has caused major ructions.

Kristian Aquilina, who has overseen Holden New Zealand for the past three years, will for the foreseeable future now spend several days a week at Holden HQ in Melbourne overseeing the Australian marketing plan.

Announced yesterday, the dual role job comes after the sudden resignation of Holden Australia’s executive director of marketing, which in turn comes after two black months of sales, with February and March providing the worst ever retail performances across the Tasman since Holden began in 1948.

The brand slipped to 10th place on the Australian sales charts last month having achieved just one in 20 new cars sold.

One particular shock: It achieved fewer than 600 registrations of the vital new ZB Commodore across the Tasman last month – that’s only double the count Holden NZ reached for the same period, its tally comprising both the ZB and the precedingVE2 line.

Whereas Holden is tanking in Australia, its New Zealand performance remains relatively rosy.

Last month it continued to hold its long-term position as the fourth most popular brand and, though obviously the actual registrations count from the new car and commercial vehicle market was modest by Australian terms at 1100 units, the market share of eight percent is far healthier.

Aquilina, a Melburnian who joined General Motors Holden in 1997, and has filled a number of roles for the company prior to being appointed managing director of Holden New Zealand in January 2015, was unavailable for comment today.

Ed Finn, head of Holden NZ corporate communications, declined opportunity to provide comment.

Aquilina apparently headed to Melbourne on a red eye flight this morning to step into a position vacated by Canadian Mark Harland, a 20-year General Motors veteran. He'd had the marketing job since November 2016.

One of Harland’s last duties for Holden was an announcement, in his role as Holden Motorsport Executive Director, that sent shivers through motorsport.

Last Friday when the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship was in Tasmania, Harland announced brand-run Holden Motorsport has suspended development of the V6 twin-turbo engine it was planning to introduce into the presently wholly-V8 series.

Working with Triple Eight, it had been suggested in some corners that the engine could debut as early as August, ahead of another planned wildcard berth at Bathurst on October 7.

However, that will now no longer be the case as Holden Motorsport’s announcement states that, while committed to the series, it will put further development of the engine on ‘hold’.

Harland reiterated to teams that Holden is “100 percent committed to motorsport and our sponsorship of the Red Bull Holden Racing Team and supporting all Holden teams.”

The Holden V6 twin-turbo was the only engine configuration outside of the existing V8 platform under development by any manufacturer.

The impact means Holden teams will continue running the eight-cylinder engine for the time being, maintaining the category’s status quo.

The diminished importance of Holden road cars to Australian motorists, meantime, has been a long-term issue, but bad became worse in the six months since it closed its domestic manufacturing operations and became a full-blown importer.

Industry commentators say it has been a huge fall for a brand that, back in its heyday accounted for almost one in every two cars sold, and led the Australian car market for more than three decades.

However, Holden was last No.1 in its homeland 16 years ago, in 2002.

In March Holden was beaten in Australia by Toyota, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Ford, Nissan, Honda, Subaru and Volkswagen. In New Zealand last month it was bettered by Toyota, Ford and Mitsubishi. The latter achieved the same eight percent market share as Holden NZ but got ahead on the strength of selling four more cars. Ford had an 11 percent share, with 1551 registrations, and perennial market leader Toyota topped with 2421 sales, for a 17 percent share.