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Jan 11, 2012

Nothing Australian about car industry

There's nothing very Australian about Ford or General Motors, two foreign-owned corporations under extraordinary financial strain.


Football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars, as they say. (And Fords, too, of course.) Perhaps it’s the vastness of the land, or an inherited tribal allegiance to the brands and Bathurst heroes, but the red lion and blue oval somehow became part of the national ethos.

Except there’s nothing very Australian about Ford or General Motors, two foreign-owned corporations under extraordinary financial strain for whom our backwater market isn’t a major priority. And Australians fell out of love with Falcons, Commodores and other locally-made sedans long ago. Too expensive, compared to Asian-made competitors; too fuel-guzzling, as the price of unleaded climbs higher.

But the thought that perhaps we might not make cars in this country — an almost inevitable consequence of globalisation — is too frightening for anyone in government to contemplate. A vocal union-led workforce and strong community support in the manufacturing centres of Geelong and Adelaide demand governments continue to prop up an industry too big to fail — at least in terms of political damage.

It flies in the face of the economic rationalism both sides of politics subscribe to. As Bernard Keane writes today:

“Such assistance of course is exactly what the government has been advised by Treasury not to do — support those industries under pressure from the resources boom in an effort to delay or prevent structural change in the economy. The problem is particularly acute for the automotive sector, which has been hammered not just by a high dollar, or input costs inflated by the resources boom, or even subsidised foreign competition, but by Australians themselves who have turned their backs on the traditional big family car offerings local manufacturers continue to push at them, in favour of smaller vehicles.”

Dick Johnson retired; Peter Brock is dead. Australians stopped buying the local big-bangers. When will the politicians catch up?


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15 thoughts on “Nothing Australian about car industry

  1. Meski

    Eventually, GM and Ford won’t keep the local plants open no matter how much money our government throws at them.

  2. Lord Barry Bonkton

    Most of the Holden fleet are not built here anyway. Just the boomadore and the cruze. The rest come from Thailand or Europe.

  3. AR

    I’ve been trying to buy a 4 cylinder, manual s/w for 6 months – scarcer than chook teeth coz anyone who has one realises what a great vehicle they have. Guzzlers are sitting in car yards the land/state over coz there ain’t that many bogans still thick enough to want them.
    disclaimer I grew up in the 50/60s as a dedicated petrol head but saw the light (or rather cost of benzin) in Euroland in the 70s, the future but not as we’d expected it, Jim.

  4. Archer

    I’ve pasted this government site for information. It is a reference for those choosing a car by its greeness. Note that the Mazda 3 is on the top of the list for sales and the Commodore is second however their rating score is identical. Obviously the Mazda will use 2.8l less per hundred km, which I don’t class as a huge saving when you consider the difference in engine size, passenger comfort, boot space, overtaking speed, safety and ride on an Australian highway.

    If you are a city dweller, go the Mazda I would but this carry on of “gas guzzlers” is fallacy. Automotive styling, architecture and engineering is a compromise of design for the environment, the tasks to which the vehicle may be put and the occupants needs and safety.

    So, for a person who needs a green family sedan they’d be better off with a Camry (5 star). Infact the Mazda3 guy may consider a Camry if he wants to be green and still have a large car. But it’s alot of car to move with a 2.4l so it wouldn’t exactly be zippy when overtaking a semi on a highway.


    I fear production is finished in Australia for GM and Ford, but I hope they maintain their Styling and Engineering studios. The opportunity to bid for global platform projects still exists if we retain the skilled designers, engineers, technicians and scientists.

  5. zut alors

    I suppose it’s expecting too much for GM and Ford to get serious about solar powered vehicles?

    If mega-bucks were spent on research and development in that area these two behemoths may manage to stay in the game. But old (oil-dependent) habits die hard so GM and Ford will just bury themselves slowly. But the Oz taxpayer should not be expected to pay for the advance purchase funeral.

  6. AR

    Arser – is there NO subject on which you aren’t? “passenger comfort,… overtaking speed, … Automotive styling ” FFS!

  7. SBH

    Last commodore I owned (2006) got 450 kms to a tank. That’s 20 miles to the gallon in the old money. The dealer said it wasn’t a problem and refused to fix it under warranty or at service. It also had the dinkiest set of electronic display gadgets I’ve ever seen. The distance to empty number would change from 200 ks to 50 ks in the course of a 5 minute trip, sometimjes up sometimes down. At one point the holden mechanic admitted they were not actually useful and were ‘really just toys’.

    It was a rubbish car with rubbish customer support, that’s why people don’t buy Australia cars – they’re crap.

  8. Meski

    @Zut: Solar might be a bit impractical for cities. Consider that many are parking under cover at both ends. But that means that they would be close to something that could be fitted out with power outlets… (which shifts the ‘green-ness’ to power stations, a lot easier proposition – nuke, wind, solar, etc)

  9. Salamander

    The Cruze is not a big-banger or a gas guzzler. And while some snobs think it is a bogan’s car, having researched it recently while looking for a small hatch to buy, I concluded it was one of the best. It has excellent safety qualities (even beyond ANCAP 5 star). The same design, badged a Chevrolet, was Canadian Car of the Year (the sedan). It certainly gives Euro, Jap and Korean equivalents a run for their money. The ignorant enjoy throwing brickbats, encouraged by vested interests. It should be promoted and exported vigorously on its considerable merits.

  10. Archer

    And then we have, AR. The person who’s to tight to spend their money on one of the many fine new vehicles available to them…..to many damned “things” in there…..ya can’t fix them with a rock. Whatever happened to Massey Furguson? Why did they leave our shores? They don’t build them like that anymore. Perhaps they’ll resurrect the Leyland P76 just for you.

    When a person uses guzzler and bogan I make no apology for adding my 2 cents worth. I’ve spent the better part of my life designing the assembly plants, the tooling and the actual product. As I said, I don’t believe a Commodore is a guzzler when you consider what you get. I trust you had a look at the link? If so, you would note that if a person purchases a Mazda3 for looks or compactness, fine. But if they purchase it as an efficient family car that will save the planet, wrong. And that’s what all this guzzler argument is about isn’t it?

    Bogan is a relative term. I recall listening to a lady call a motoring expert on the radio. “I’ve $70,000 to spend and I want a good European sport sedan, what would you recommend”. The compare jumped in straight away “you won’t get much from Europe for $70k but, I highly recommend the Mazda R8, excellent car, beautiful quality, 4 seats and you’ll get plenty of change from your $70,000”. The lady insisted she wanted European. He then asked do you want my opinion or have you made up your mind and are hoping for validation? A Mazda was for Bogans, she wanted snob factor.

    “Except there’s nothing very Australian about Ford or General Motors,”

    I only partially agree with this statement, the parent companies are American, but the products are designed and engineered at Port Melbourne and Broadmeadows and that makes them very unique. Ask any engineer about the reactions they get when they take them o/s on test drives. Mike Simcoe, the designer of the Monaro was poached by Detroit and made executive director of exterior design.

    Now, take a prozac.

    Zut Alors: Where is the R&D money to come from if not from sales of conventional but technologically evolving vehicles?

  11. drsmithy

    I suppose it’s expecting too much for GM and Ford to get serious about solar powered vehicles?

    If you mean a car powered solely by onboard panel, it’s never going to happen. There’s just not enough surface area to generate sufficient power for anything resembling a normal passenger vehicle.

  12. AR

    Arser – that would be too twice.
    If your putative engineering smarts is equivalent to our grammar, you may toddle along to the supernumerative sump – they may have some oakum for you to pick.
    No semi sentient needs more than four cylinders (not au fait with diesel but I take it on advice to be a plus) with a manual shift, a fifth as overdrive for our wide open vistas (eg the 80s Mitsubishi Sigma).
    Anyone who NEEDSmore than 2 litres should look to their underwear.
    My FE Holden (1956-58 – the FC 58 to 60 was even better, higher compression ratio) gave me >30mpg (approx <10 litres per 100kms).
    OK, it was 6 cylinders, half a century ago, but it ran & ran & ran. Any bloke with a shifter could repair or tune it.
    Internal combustion is over a century old, preceded by both diesel & 2 stroke which have since been well tweaked.
    Only a moron, or someone unwilling to face their irrelevancy, persists with the delusion of spark plugs & big pots.
    Not unlike electric car (and <48/56 volt domestic types0 who adhere to lead acid batteries.
    The Sumerians gave up acid/ion transference as a cul-de-sac, why persist?
    Energy storage is simple but it ain’t electric storage – Einstein grasped that.

  13. Archer


    Well, bugger me. I’m a product of technical schools and colleges. Places that churned out apprentices and technicians. We don’t have those anymore, that’s why a good plumber makes more than a lawyer.

    All people are not made the same. According to RTA statistics, mid way through last year only 55,363 out of more than 210,000 new drivers bothered taking the manual test.

    New-car sales echoed this trend, with automatics accounting for about 70 per cent of the new car market in Australia, according to the nation’s peak body for motor vehicle manufacturers and importers.

    Diesels are great…..if you run long distances constantly. Four cylinder cars have been tried as family sedans and have failed.

    I had a Belmont wagon. I don’t know what mileage I got but I do know I could crawl into the engine compartment or under the dash to add my personal touches. Lots of fun, no sophistication.

    Never did I say we should discount any other forms of power train. Auto companies provide a product which has been market analyzed. People want SatNav, On Star technology, DVD player, ABS, ESP, EBD, 8 Air bags, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, electric seats, heads up display, 8 speaker Bose stereo etc. All these added safety and comfort features add weight. They add weight and they cause fuel use. They consume space in packaging to the point where space is at such a premium, ribbon cable is considered an option for auto harnesses rather than just plain electrical cable.

    If you go into a studio and work on the packaging of any modern car, 4, 6 or 8 cylinder, you’ll get a better idea of where I’m coming from.

  14. AR

    Arser Four cylinder cars have been tried as family sedans and have failed. Somehow this seems to have escaped the attention of Europeans.

  15. Meski

    The Europeans, with a couple of exceptions, have tried economics and failed. :^)

    oh, and

    ribbon cable is considered an option for auto harnesses rather than just plain electrical cable.

    You don’t even need ribbon cable, just distribute 12V and a serial communication bus. (CAN, for example en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CAN_bus )


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