Should we make cars in Australia – or is it too much of an ‘uphill battle’?

 holdenelizabeth_35An uphill battle lays ahead for one of Australia’s last remaining car manufacturing plants – Holden (in Adelaide’s working northern suburbs).  Holden has manufactured Australian designed cars like Kingswood, Torana, Commodore and others for over 50 years and is under pressure to economise and make more for less, according to a great story in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend magazine.

The story highlights the increasing pressures on making things in Australia, and goes beyond creating jobs.  What is often forgotten in the press, as Federal Industry Minister Senator Kim Carr has often pointed out, are the plethora of allied and supporting suppliers, in South Australia and further afield, who supply Holden and Toyota (as the other last remaining plant, in Altona, Victoria) with the thousands of components that make up the modern car.    

Ford Australia, who announced recently they will pull up stumps in 2016, will end a long history of also designing, tooling, manufacturing and selling Australian made and designed cars – the Falcon nameplate is the world’s third oldest! Like Geelong in Victoria, where the Falcon and its derivatives were made for many decades, Elizabeth is part of Holden’s heritage in Australia – a shining beacon to the past, when northern Adelaide shone bright with new industry and innovation in a part of Australia that was far removed from it. 

What will the future hold for this vital industry? Can we sustain making things beyond just pulling raw material out of the ground? As an owner of European made cars, I am probably part of the reason, however I dont need a ute nor a sedan that can cover country kilometres, nor do I need a big car. However plenty of people do, or did.

After all, mining is still a big part of Australia’s economy, so is there an alternative to making consumer cars, to light industrial utes, trucks and vans? Why make ubiquitous cars we can import from Thailand or India or Japan where they are vastly cheaper to make? Or is it merely a sign of a mature, small, western economy with a highly skilled workforce, and our strength is our Intellectual property, not our masses of workers?? Should we export our intellect instead of competing with countries where labour is vastly cheaper?  It is a devastating impact when a factory closes, beyond the loss of jobs and impacts on our economy, it also damages our ‘psyche’; our collective national narrative of being able to ‘stand on our own two feet’.

On a positive note, the story talks about the diversification many component suppliers have undertaken to survive, and those companies need to be congratulated, who, linked to supplying Holden, have diversified…amazing innovation!

Images: Holden’s factory in Elizabeth, South Australia

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