The countdown is on to October 20, 2017 when Holden will turn out the lights on Australian automotive manufacturing. This issue hits shelves less than 100 days before Holden closes its Elizabeth plant in South Australia and about 80 before Toyota does likewise at Altona, Victoria on October 3.
Judging by the number of emails received here in the magazine’s office, the loss of this country’s car building industry is still being absorbed and processed by long-time readers. Of course, many words and phrases repeatedly pop up in this correspondence – “what a shame”, “devastated”, “sadness”, “tragedy”, etc.
Yet, what I’ve found interesting as I read through the emails – and I do read every email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org – is the wide variety of reasons cited by readers for the local car industry’s demise. There is some common ground, such as our country’s higher labour costs, but everyone seems to have a different theory. What I’ve come to realise over the last few months is that most theories have merit. In other words, there are myriad causes behind the manufacturers’ decisions to call it quits.
I’d like to turn a chunk of my editorial over to AMC reader David Palmer from Maitland, NSW, as I think his points are representative of many others combined. And I also like the fact that David is not blinkered by his devotion to one brand, despite having a favourite.
“I am devastated at the loss of our motoring industry and was not surprised Ford jumped out first, even though I am a Ford guy. When Holden announced its closure it shook many of us to the core and I rang politicians, Holden dealers and their head office. It was obvious what this then meant for Toyota,” David writes.
“I am an ex-employee – a fitter and turner – at the Newcastle steelworks and feel I have seen this before a little bit. I saw the writing on the wall and retrained into teaching.
“I am aware your magazine is primarily a muscle car publication, but I think it is important for you to do a proper full story to this modern tragedy. It’s important to call it how it is, being as the Liberal Party (Abbott and Hockey) f**ked it for all of us by not providing protection for the local industry in the manner that all other countries that manufacture vehicles subsidise or assist in different ways. I think it is really crucial that it is clearly stated that Toyota did not want to leave, but had no choice. Australia was the first country outside of Japan where Toyota set up shop, dating back to 1963, and first country where they have closed. Toyota made the commitment to build and export cars from here and commit to our country’s manufacturing (unlike American owned Ford and Holden). Toyota had no choice but close to avoid a massive locally-sourced parts supply problem. The positive spin and ‘great news’-style announcements of closure made by Ford and Holden CEOs made me sick, whilst the Toyota’s head honcho announcement was one of sadness, failure and shame.
“I know there are many angles to the story, including the free trade agreements that are killing other industries, too.
“It should also be said that Nissan was a wonderful contributor [to the manufacturing industry] over many years and to motorsport in this country, from rallying in the seventies to tin-tops now.
“Lastly I am 45 years old and drive an everyday family car, but cherish my XC Falcon coupe, my 1991 EB XR8 and my 1991 Nissan Skyline GTS II from Nissan Special Vehicles Division. The latter was built in Melbourne by Australians just before Nissan closed its factory doors here.”
I can’t disagree with David’s thoughts on why local manufacturing died, however I do believe there were many other major contributing factors. For instance, the three manufacturers were producing the types of cars that few Aussies wanted to buy in this day and age. Former buyers of these cars now buy European luxury brands if they can afford them (and often when they can’t), off-road 4WDs and soft-roaders. We are also amid the trend of white collar suburbanites buying dualcab utes as pseudo family cars. The last time I looked there were 14 dualcab models on the Aussie market. Ford has done a good job to be the market leader of this segment, with Toyota.
Like so many other aspects of modern life, the market has splintered into so many categories and sub-categories that mass production of any one type of locally-produced car for the domestic market was no longer viable.
I think Holden backed itself into a corner over many decades with its nationalistic marketing that inspired a large slab of non new car-buying bogans to get the Holden logo and Brock’s name or face tattooed onto their bodies, the type of action that only served to lessen the brand’s appeal to the average Australians who do actually buy new cars!
Good on Ford for having a crack into the SUV market with the Territory, although quality issues (I know from personal experience) and Detroit’s ‘One Ford’ policy took away export potential and ultimately killed the model.
If I had more room on this page I’d keep listing my theories...