End of an era across the Tasman

Australian motoring writer Grant Edwards laments the demise of the car manufacturing industry in his country

Competition, labour costs and a high dollar have combined to bring an end to Australian car manufacturing.
Competition, labour costs and a high dollar have combined to bring an end to Australian car manufacturing.

Nine years from now I will sit alongside my eldest boy while he learns to drive.

Unlike teenagers over the countless recent decades, that tutelage will not be done behind the wheel of an Australian-built car. By that time, Aussie icons such as the Falcon and Commodore will be virtually forgotten by the next generation.

From 2017, cars will no longer be manufactured in Australia.

Ford, Holden and Toyota will shut up shop. All three will become full-line importers.

Why? It depends on who you ask.

For starters we live in one of the most competitive automotive markets in the world. More than 60 marques are fighting it out in Australia, meaning fragmentation.

Buyer tastes have also changed. No longer is the large sedan our automotive staple.

The Holden Commodore was Australia's number one seller for 15 years. In 1998 there were just shy of 95,000 Commodores sold, and they continued to sell in the mid-80,000s until 2003. Last year, only 27,766 Commodores found homes.

It has been a similar story for the Ford Falcon. Sales of the sedan and wagon peaked in 1995, but there has since been a gradual decline. The Falcon limped to 10,610 total sales for 2013.

Australia's most popular cars now come from the small arena. Last year's biggest seller was the Toyota Corolla, followed closely by the Mazda3.

But even these two leaders are selling in half the volumes of the Commodore and Falcon during their heady days.

There is also a surging sports utility vehicle market ... you can blame mums for that. Just take a look at the school car park to see the proliferation of SUVs. They appreciate the wagon-like proportions and high-riding position.

All three local manufacturers have sung from the same hymn sheet in relation to their demise: low tariffs, new free trade agreements, the high Australian dollar and above-average labour costs.

Successive governments have failed to protect the local industry.

It's cheaper to import cars with virtually zero tariffs than to build them here ... and sending our cars overseas is hampered by trade agreements and our high Australian dollar.

And our manufacturing workers are expensive compared with overseas.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union blamed the Coalition Government's lack of support for Australian investment, and workers.

But the unions, too, have blood on their hands. Federal Employment Minister Eric Abetz has revealed unions were the driving force behind Holden granting workers 11 above-average wage increases since 1994.

Once the doors are shut on the Altona, Elizabeth and Broadmeadows plants, manufacturing's likely never to return.

This is the end of an era. Not so long along there were Mitsubishis, Holdens, Fords and Toyotas all being made in Australia. Within four years, there will be none.

Our skilled manufacturing talents will be lost overseas and we will become completely reliant on what the world throws at us.

At least Hyundai, Kia and Holden have started the practice of testing cars for our market, which is keeping some industry jobs in Australia.

You can't help but look jealously at Jaguar Land Rover as a shining beacon in the global landscape.

Now owned by Indian company Tata, the brand is going from strength to strength in Britain.

A once proud car manufacturing hub, the UK too has abandoned much of its automotive industry. Yet Jaguar Land Rover is recruiting 1400 employees at its new state-of-the-art engine manufacturing centre near Wolverhampton.

That is the first phase of what will see the creation of something like 600 manufacturing roles at the plant in the next four years.

Holden proved it can build a world-class Commodore with the VF. Unfortunately, it was a decade too late.

Most new car buyers are shunning the traditional brands and while research has shown there are still some drivers out there keen to staunchly support the green and gold, they aren't likely to be in the new car market in the near future.

- NZ Herald

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