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Kristian Aquilina

THE appointment of Kristian Aquilina as the new director of marketing for GM Holden in Australia has been made in the wake of long-standing requests for the company’s marketing management to adopt the advertising strategies that have been working so well for the brand in the New Zealand market.

Mr Aquilina has been managing director of Holden NZ and Isuzu Trucks New Zealand since 2015 where he has successfully avoided the steep decline in Holden share experienced in Australia by using innovative and entertaining advertising campaigns.

He has been the darling of New Zealand Holden dealers who enjoy 9.0 per cent share and third place on the sales ladder and the envy of Australian Holden dealers who have seen their Holden sales fall to 10th place on the ladder with a paltry market share in March of 4.8 per cent.

Dealers told GoAutoNews Premium the appointment was the “answer to our prayers”.

They said that Holden showroom traffic was slowing to a trickle which meant they could not even get buyers into test drives which usually proved fruitful.

Dealers have been saying to GoAutoNews Premium for some time now that Holden marketing had lost its way and that buyers no longer knew what Holden stood for any more.

They said that a succession of marketing professionals from different non-Holden backgrounds in the marketing chair had taken the core brand appeal in different directions at a critical time in its history.

Their different ideas on how to take the brand forward had confused what Holden stands for in the eyes of car buyers, dealers said.
Holden has had five marketing chiefs in nine years.

These include Philip Brook (2004-2010); John Elsworth (2009-2012); Bill Mott (October 2013-April 2015); Geraldine Davys (April 2015-November 2016); and Mark Harland (November 2016-April 2018).

The key discussion in Holden dealer ranks has been Mr Aquilina’s performance in the New Zealand market during the same period since 2015.

Holden NZ has a 9.0 per cent market share. It is third overall to Toyota and Ford. In passenger cars it is third to Toyota and Mazda. In LCV/SUVs it is third to Toyota and Ford. Holden sold 14,411 vehicles in NZ in 2017.

In Australia, Holden fell to 10th place in the market in March with just 4.8 per cent share.

Year-to-date 2018 share is slightly better at 5.3 per cent but sales are down 22.8 per cent on the corresponding period in 2017.

Australian dealers have been arguing that the various advertising campaigns in New Zealand, initiated by Mr Aquilina, should be adopted in Australia immediately. But, they said, these requests were constantly rejected by the marketing department at Fishermans Bend.

Dealers have been arguing for this adoption of NZ marketing tactics for more than a year.

In making the announcement of Mr Aquilina’s appointment, CEO and managing director of GM Holden, Mark Bernhard, made a point of highlighting that Mr Aquilina had “advanced the Holden brand in New Zealand, with strong sales results”, confirming what dealers had been saying all along.

Mr Bernhard also addressed the key point the dealers have been making for some time by saying in a letter to Australian dealers announcing Mr Aquilina’s appointment: “We’re focused on driving enquiry and increasing foot traffic into your dealerships. Marketing is critical to achieving this.”

Mr Aquilina, who will retain his role running Holden NZ in addition to the top marketing role in Australia, has replaced Mark Harland who has decided to leave Holden and will also leave General Motors where he has worked for more than 20 years; mostly in Canada.

Mr Harland has been in the role for 15 months.

He replaced Geraldine Davys (formerly from iSelect and now at Nissan Australia) who, in turn, replaced Bill Mott who was the managing director of Opel Australia before it closed prematurely.

Bill Mott took over from long-term Holden executive John Elsworth (before Mr Elsworth left to go to Hyundai as COO) and Mr Elsworth took over from Philip Brook (who came to Holden from Nissan Australia).

Mr Aquilina started his career with GM Holden in Australia in 1997 in corporate affairs, where he helped to launch the VT Commodore. From 2001 he gained a wealth of experience working across vehicle sales, service and marketing.

He was then appointed the sales manager for Latin America, Africa and the Middle East in 2003 working with the Chevrolet brand in Brazil and Dubai. In 2005 he became the national manager for government relations and public policy and in 2007 moved into a role as export sales manager, working with Pontiac in the USA, and the Buick in China.

In 2008 he was appointed to the role of marketing manager for large cars, SUVs & LCVs before becoming Holden’s zone manager for Victoria and Tasmania in 2013.

Mr Aquilina will continue to oversee operations in New Zealand in addition to his new marketing responsibilities. He will be based at Holden HQ in Fishermans Bend.

Mr Aquilina, 41, and his wife Megan have two children.

By John Mellor and Neil Dowling