Sponsored article: Morgan Tait takes Holden New Zealand’s new family of European-inspired vehicles out for a day at the beach

When it comes to donuts, I take mine from a cafe or farmer’s market with a side of coffee and some Snapchat documentation.

So to find myself leaving the ring shaped patterns in the black sand of a rugged Auckland west coast beach was not a situation I had ever envisaged for my life. Especially not when the vehicle I am manoeuvering is a brand new, $55,000 4WD with heated seats.

Holden New Zealand had placed me behind the wheel of the Holden Captiva as part of its sponsorship role with Newsroom. (Watch the video in the player below)

The brand is evolving and chose the winter solstice – the longest night of the year – to symbolise a new dawn for the company.

Holden wants to broaden its demographic from the V8-Commodore-petrol-head image of generations past by promoting its range of lifestyle vehicles which are more inline with current trends and tastes.

It also chose to invite a group of female journalists – largely a novice group of motoring writers – to test drive these vehicles on Kariotahi Beach in Waiuku.

I drove to the location in the $37,000 Trax before taking the Captiva for a (literal) spin – both vehicles a far cry from my $1500-ish 1993 Honda Civic now parked at Holden HQ.

In the Trax with me was head of marketing for Holden New Zealand, Marnie Samphier.

She told me how extensive market research had revealed that while Kiwis loved the Holden brand, they saw it more as “a brand for someone else”.

“We had a sense that the brand was losing momentum, and that’s what our quarterly reports were telling us.

“We found that lots of people loved the brand and had a fond memory of the brand – whether it was sitting in the back of their grandad’s old Holden or learning to drive.

“What we heard was it was a brand for someone else, it wasn’t a brand for ‘me’.”

The new Holden image aims to stay true to its car-lover roots, but to offer something to the younger, female demographic – people like me.

The Trax, for example, is a compact SUV – the type of car growing the fastest in popularity, outpacing smaller sedans and hatchbacks.

On the drive I felt higher on the road with more visibility, factors Samphier said were proving popular.

“People are really enjoy that higher ride, better visibility and an improved sense of safety.”

Big on safety, small in size. The Trax is Holden’s not-so-serious SUV. Photo: BWmedia

My Civic has served me well since I purchased him upon graduating university six years ago. He’s been a very reliable little guy and together we have circumnavigated the North Island.

My family lives in Hawke’s Bay, I ski in the winter and like to get away to any possible beach in summer – so he’s done his fair share of kilometres on the open road and rolling New Zealand ranges, as well as nipping around the city most days.

During our time together he’s only needed a new tyre or two (thanks, Dad), a new battery and something weird once happened with the brakes.

As a member of the smashed avocado generation, I relate to my fellow millennials who think owning a fancy car is becoming less and less of the aspirational status symbol it once was.

We have bigger financial fish to fry (see: access to housing market, cost of living) and tend to value experiences over possessions.

Team that with a journalist’s salary, being able to drive a brand new car off the shop floor is not something I see in my near (certain?) future.

While I support the idea of living sans car and having reliable public transport, ride sharing services and a bicycle – I live in New Zealand so these are not options for me.

Instead, it is likely I will upgrade to a newer sleeker car model in the next few years – which is where Holden’s brand transformation caught my attention.

“The car purchasing process is very different to what it was 20 years ago,” said Samphier. “But to some degree our dealership experience hasn’t changed naturally, it hasn’t kept up with how consumer behaviour has changed.

“Millennials are not really comfortable in the dealership environment, they are huge consumers of online shopping and doing their research online.”

Last year, the company launched it’s Add Fuel and Go offer which is based on popular subscription models, think mobile phone plans and Netflix.

“We packed everything related to car ownership into one weekly price – not only financing the vehicle but things like insurance are all included.”

Holden’s owner, General Motors, has also partnered with ride sharing company Maven and its vehicles are currently being used to test the business model in Sydney and Melbourne, with the likelihood it will come to New Zealand, too.

“We want to be partnering with companies which are at the forefront of innovation,” said Samphier.

Growing up I have not really been across car brands, but when given this assignment I had to agree my (uninformed) view of Holden matched a V8-Commodore-petrol-head brand image. So it was interesting to me to see these compact, sporty and sleeker offerings.

The silhouettes are actually along the lines of my idea of Volkswagen, Audi, Jeep and Range Rovers and have techy features including an apps that sync your whole phone to the sound system allowing you to see texts and emails as well as play audio and go hands free.

So when we arrived at Kariotahi, I was excited to be put behind the wheel of the Captiva and told (by Newsroom’s film crew) to see what it could do on the beach.

This involved repeated camera shots of me zooming through the shallow water, spinning circles in the sand and basically trying not to get stuck or crash.

Equipped for life’s twists and turns, the Captiva offers comfort, class, and control. Photo: BWmedia

The Captiva is intended as a family car and seats seven, with plenty of room for gear. I was surprised how smooth it rode across the beach and how in control I felt steering it across the unpredictable and unfamiliar surface.

Owning my reliable little car has definitely taught me that reliability is something I value in a vehicle.

That is both mechanical and financial. Despite the glamorous image you might have of journalism – it’s not realistic for me to be spending large on fuel, and especially not being hit with surprise repairs, expensive tyre replacements and other car-related costs I don’t know about.

The other thing that has come to stick out to me during my career as a crime reporter, is I have written about – and been to – my fair share of car accidents. I have even seen first hand from an accident in my own family that the make and model of a car really can be the deciding factor in walking away from a crash, or not.

“Safety is hugely important,” said Samphier. “What we are finding is every car that we are making has more and more safety features – safety features that in the past have been the domain of the European cars.

“These are becoming much more mainstream and standard across all makes and models.”

There is a perception, and perhaps it is a misconception, that it only the higher-spec cars that can offer those things (safety and fuel efficiency), so I am encouraged to see that there are real options out there where you can get style and safety at a more affordable price point.

Oh, and it couldn’t hurt to drive a car that has air conditioning and can go more than 40km/h up the hills on the Napier-Taupo Rd, either…

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