GM Holden is looking to “new audiences” like young women and Australians from Asian backgrounds, as it prepares for the end of local car-making at the end of 2017.
It’s a tricky gear-change for what is still an iconic “Aussie” brand, despite Holden having been owned for decades by the US-based car giant, General Motors.
Hence, much time and effort has gone into Holden’s launch of a new small car, the Spark, which joins the highly competitive “micro” market segment that includes the Nissan Micra, the Mitsubishi Mirage, the Suzuki Celerio and the Fiat 500.
The Korean-made Spark got significant local input at Holden’s secretive proving ground at Lang Lang south-east of Melbourne – in terms of how it handles and drives in Australian conditions – and the car will be an early test of the company’s push to reinvent itself.
The “bullseye” target buyer for the Spark is a young woman aged between 23 and 26, mostly single or partnered but not married, often university-educated and working full-time.
As Holden’s general manager product marketing, Ben Lasry, delicately puts it – Holden has always been seen as “pretty masculine”.
“We acknowledge that heritage, but to grow the business and regenerate the brand we need to talk to that new audience and the millennials, as an audience, they don’t care about us,” Mr Lasry told The New Daily.
“They’re ambivalent. And they’re pretty trend conscious. They associate Holden with big, masculine cars. So that’s why we need to start changing the perception with cars like the Spark.”
The Spark has plenty of zip on the road, but the car’s centerpiece is perhaps an infotainment package designed for smart phones like the Apple iPhone and the Samsung Android.
The customer pitch will be different, mostly social media and “pop up” stores in the mainland capital cities which will have “Holden product geniuses” who sound more like Generation Y staffers in an Apple store than car salesmen.
Indeed, Mr Lasry says that millennial car buyers will have spent an estimated 17 hours online researching the market before they enter a retail outlet, and that they’re looking for somebody who knows more than them.
When launching the new Spark with Holden dealers, the big message was that Holden is “targeting a group of people we’ve never really spoke to before and you can’t talk to them in the same old way”.
Holden is also said to have told its dealers that it will also look to broaden its appeal to among Australians from Chinese and Indian backgrounds, which one observer dubbed as a move to “de-bogan” the brand.
Mr Lasry says that Holden will always have its roots in Australia, but that people are becoming less concerned about where cars are built.
“I think what is means to be Australian is changing a lot the mind of a lot of people as well,” he said.
“As part of the appealing to broader audiences we need connect to those people … we are seen as being quite Anglo-Saxon, male-based.
“When you talk about specific ethnic groups, we will potentially look at ambassadors. Potentially, someone from the Asian community who will be able to bridge that gap between their current image of Holden and the community group.
“Changing that perception, it’s going to be difficult. It’s a big job.”