It’s possible, I realise, to feel a little glum about the direction the motor industry is heading.
The shift away from large sedans and wagons, the slow and painful disappearance of the manual gearbox, and the push towards cars where you, the driver, aren’t always needed … these are trends seemingly at odds with the reasons most of us fell in love with cars in the first place.
Then there’s the unwelcome reminder that, not so long ago, we were making excellent cars right here in our own backyard. Ponder all this for too long and it’s easy to feel disconnected, disinterested, disenfranchised. If you let it, that is.
Allow me to suggest a more positive counterpoint. For not only are things better than they seem, but there’s mounting evidence to suggest that the Aussie motoring industry is actually showing some signs of resurgence.
A relatively recent example is the joint venture between Ford Australia and respected local tuner, Herrod Performance, the R-Spec Mustang. It’s more than a tyre-destroying, fuel-burning tribute to old-school muscle. It’s an example of a growing cottage industry that’s creating jobs and putting Aussie engineering front and centre.
The appeal of this kind of business relationship is obvious. Ford is able to bask in the glow of a halo Mustang without outlandish development costs. And Herrod is able to lean on the marketing cut-through and sales clout of a major manufacturer. The buyer wins too, as their 500kW Mustang comes with the security of a full factory warranty.
Similar arrangements are springing up elsewhere. Nissan teamed up with Melbourne-based company Premcar to produce the Nissan Navara N-Trek Warrior 4x4 ute.
Walkinshaw and Ateco are the other big players in this growing space, of course, with their conversion and engineering work with RAM, plus the Chevrolet Camaro and Silverado.
Now a thriving business, Ateco has had to put on additional workers and move to a 24hr shift schedule to keep up with demand.
Look more broadly and the success stories continue. Carbon Revolution, based in Geelong, is one of the world’s leading innovators in carbonfibre wheels. And PWR, the Gold Coast maker of radiators and intercoolers, is supplying much of the grid in NASCAR, the World Rally Championship, and Formula 1.
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We shouldn’t forget the Aussie design departments working for the likes of Ford and Toyota, either. They’re expanding, creating more jobs and fostering a new generation of talent that’s shaping the way cars look the world over.
The point is that far from fading into obscurity, Australia’s expertise and ingenuity in the motoring space is continuing to flourish. The scale might be smaller, but our industry is now one of diversification and specialisation.
The real winner in all of this, of course, is us. No-one can argue the world is a worse place now that Ford is selling a supercharged Mustang with 500kW. And nor can they claim that the Big Three's factory closures have destroyed our local car culture.
From a product point of view, the simple truth is that lovers of rear-drive, V8-powered muscle cars have just as much, if not more, to cheer about. Mustang. Camaro. Corvette. These are compelling nameplates built to connect with true car enthusiasts. And in some cases, they now carry a welcome dose of Aussie engineering know-how.
Surely that’s a reason to smile.