Former Toyota boss Dave Buttner has started his first day as the new head of Holden. Picture: Supplied.
Former Toyota boss Dave Buttner has started his first day as the new head of Holden. Picture: Supplied.

The Toyota man who’ll save Holden from demise

HOLDEN fans are about to find out if a 30-year veteran of Toyota - who helped drive it to sales dominance in Australia - can turn the brand's fortunes around.

Dave Buttner, the man charged with the responsibility of saving Holden, says there are no plans to slash its dealer network to reflect its rapidly falling market share.

The former Toyota boss - who also spent 10 years at Ford - was lured out of retirement to take on the new challenge.

"I think that market representation is really important for the brand," says Buttner.

"We can argue back and forwards whether it's too many or too few, but we have to ensure that we have dealers in the right locations, both in metro and rural Australia, to service the customers' needs."

Buttner said while there has been "some rationalisation of the dealer network in recent times" he believes "the network we have now is the one we have to work with."

In an interview on his first day on the job at Holden's Melbourne headquarters, Mr Buttner said his first task was to get the brand back on the radar of customers.

The brand has slipped from second most popular in the country to 6th, as sales have dropped steadily. This year sales are down by more than 20 per cent.

Holden boss Dave Buttner says it is premature to talk about a possible return to Number One. First they need to reverse the sales slide. Picture: Supplied.
Holden boss Dave Buttner says it is premature to talk about a possible return to Number One. First they need to reverse the sales slide. Picture: Supplied.

"For somebody to buy a car we have to ensure we're in their consideration set. We have to ensure that people understand the broad product range we now have had and the segments in which we have strong product," he says.

He admits it's a long way back to the dominant position the brand once enjoyed with Australian car buyers.

"Nothing starts without a sale and over time we have to ensure we grow our volume and share and profit. Everybody wants a return on their investment. Dealers are no different, GM is no different and we've got to be no different," he says.

Talk of regaining the number one spot was premature, he said.

"To have that aspiration at this juncture I think would be naive. We have to be on the consideration set, increased awareness and work with our dealers to ensure the brand can get back to a level where it's profitable," he says.

Buttner, who has spent decades competing with Holden in roles at Toyota at Ford, revealed he comes from a family of Holden diehards. His father had a succession of early Holdens, including a purple Premier with a cream roof and matching cream seats.

"I put my hand up to drive it whenever I could," he said.

Nevertheless he admits to taking his time to accept the challenging role.

"I didn't jump at it lightly and I didn't jump at it quickly. I wanted to understand a bit about this iconic brand that I grew up with," he says.

"There was this innate passion for the brand and then when I started speaking to GM international, one of the first things on mind was what's the future product and what's your commitment to Holden Australia and frankly I was buoyed by their responses," he says.

Holden dealers are also feeling the pain of the sales downturn but the company says there are no plans to cull more outlets. Photo: Supplied.
Holden dealers are also feeling the pain of the sales downturn but the company says there are no plans to cull more outlets. Photo: Supplied.

His first task on day one was talking to 600 employees and gauging their morale.

"It's been a challenging time for the company in terms of the cessation of Australian manufacturing announcement made back in 2013, a lot of downsizing, a lot of adjustment to ensure the company was in good stead to go forward

"To a person there's a very deep and strong desire to ensure that the brand is successful," he says.

He believes that fondness extends to the rest of Australia.

"There's a strong place in peoples' hearts for the brand," he says.

"The upside to this franchise is still incredibly high, we just have to get all of our ducks in a row, have our strategic direction and get that navigation clear in everybody's mind and go for it."


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