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THE NEEDLESS DEATH OF THE AUSTRALIAN CAR INDUSTRY? – BLOWIN' GASKETS

By Bob Kotmel, 26 Mar 2017 Features

The Needless death of the Australian Car Industry

Bob Kotmel is angry at the politicians, unions and company executives that have combined to shut down the Aussie car manufacturing industry come October.

Sorry in advance for sounding like Henry Rollins, but I am angry at the politicians, unions and company executives who have combined to shut down the Australian car manufacturing industry come October.

We have a country of 23 million people and should be able to support at least one Australian auto manufacturer that makes large family cars. If I was the prime minister I’d find a way to keep one plant going somehow. The politicians from all sides have let us down severely. I don’t care whether you vote Labor or Liberal; it’s almost treason not to have an Australian car manufacturer.

Banks don’t actually produce anything, yet they make billions of dollars in profit from us making withdrawals from ATMs, electronic funds transfers, and interest on our credit cards. Yes, they employ people, but it’s not the same as a car manufacturing company, which actually makes something tangible. They turn raw products into something material that provides thousands of jobs, including apprenticeships for our kids. To me a local car manufacturer is worth preserving a lot more than some heritage-listed building, which governments have no trouble doing.

The thing that I believe Australian car makers have provided better than anyone else for decades is large family cars built for the tough Aussie conditions. And we have loved them and turned them into street machines. I’m thinking of the XY and HQ-sized car, and the late-model Holdens and Falcons. Yes, there are the two-door Monaros and smaller cars like the Toranas and Capris, but the majority have been large four-door passenger cars.

I have a VE Commodore sedan and a 308 HZ station wagon. The VE is a magic car to drive 1000km in. Turn the stereo on, set the cruise control and you’re there in 10 hours. It’s like low flying, and averaging nine litres of fuel per 100km. A big Mercedes might be better, but I could buy two Holdens for the same price. It’s hard to imagine taking the family on holidays with the same comfort in a little import. And my old HZ is a great car; it rides better than the VE but doesn’t have the cruise control or the same fuel economy.

If I had a magic wand that worked, I’d combine both the Ford and Holden plants and bring out a Folden. And if you threw Toyota into the mix and combined the three plants it could be a Foldota. I’d choose the best and most reliable components from the three manufacturers and combine them to make one large family sedan, ute, station wagon and SUV. They would be budget-built standard vehicles designed to be super-reliable, fuel-efficient and low-maintenance to suit Australian conditions. If you wanted more power or custom paint or what have you, that would be available from aftermarket providers, which would provide jobs for mechanics and spray painters, etc.

I’d also take a leaf out of Harley-Davidson’s book and ask the current employees for ideas and suggestions on how to improve the plant or product, and give them the opportunity to participate in the company bonus scheme like Willie G did. It helped turn the company around.

I have no doubts that a single company could have a lean and mean hierarchy. Some high-flying company executives get paid their bonuses based on how many workers they can get rid of; maybe it’s time for some of these execs to excel elsewhere?

I’m not a politician or an economist, but I’m struggling to get my head around the free trade deal that our government has in place. If I was the prime minister I’d be protecting our car manufacturing industry with tariffs instead of subsidising them with taxpayers’ money. Another thing that could be done is introduce tax incentives to buy and use locally built cars for business purposes, like rental or taxi companies. I know this is going to sound crazy, and I have no idea how to make this work, but I’d mandate that in order to import 100,000 cars, 100,000 locally made Foldens have to be sold first, and tariffs would go up if they don’t.

I believe the majority of politicians get elected with the intention of doing the best they can for Australia. They want to make a difference that provides us with a good place to live and a future for our kids. But I think some lose sight of what’s best for the country and get made to follow party lines. I hope some politicians get to read this, and instead of coming up with all the excuses for why they can’t save the Australian car industry, they do something to keep at least one plant viable.

I’m normally a very happy person; I’m just voicing my opinion, which is not necessarily that of STREET MACHINE. Feel free to comment and disagree if you like.