Plea to res­cue Aussie in­dus­try

Lo­cally made cars are strug­gling to match the sale of im­ports, writes Stu­art Innes

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Onroad -

THAI­LAND and South Korea have joined Ja­pan as coun­tries each sell­ing more new ve­hi­cles in Aus­tralia than Aus­tralian-made cars, spark­ing a warn­ing that a strat­egy is needed to save the Aus­tralian car man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try.

Also, the climb­ing dom­i­nance of im­ported cars com­pared with Aus­tralian­made cars has pro­voked a slap on the face to the Fed­eral Govern­ment for mak­ing a ‘‘big mis­take’’ in a free-trade agree­ment with Thai­land.

For some years, Ja­pan has been the only coun­try to sell more of its cars in Aus­tralia than Aus­tralian cars.

But the lat­est VFACTS new ve­hi­cle sales fig­ures from the Fed­eral Cham­ber of Au­to­mo­tive In­dus­tries shows that this year Thai­land and South Korea have each also surged ahead of Aus­tralian-built cars, which have fallen in their share of the mar­ket.

In the first 10 months this year, cars made in Ja­pan have won 296,555 sales in Aus­tralia, from South Korea’s 137,914 and Thai­land’s 135,618. Cars sold in Aus­tralia made in Aus­tralia by Toy­ota, Holden and Ford tal­lied 121,628.

In that 10 months com­pared with the same pe­riod last year, Ja­panese cars grew 9 per cent in sales, Thai­land 17 per cent and South Korea 36 per cent while Aus­tralia’s were up just 3 per cent.

Im­ported cars now hold 86 per cent of the mar­ket in Aus­tralia, hav­ing steadily grown from 79 per cent in 2006.

Im­port tar­iffs were phased down to set­tle at 5 per cent on pas­sen­ger cars and 4WDs from Jan­uary this year, ex­cept for the zero tar­iff on ve­hi­cles from Thai­land and the US, with which Aus­tralia has a free-trade agree­ment.

‘‘It was a big, big mis­take hav­ing a free trade agree­ment with Thai­land,’’ Aus­tralian Man­u­fac­tur­ing Work­ers Union of­fi­cial John Camillo says.

‘‘Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Thai cars have come here,’’ Camillo says of the FTA that took ef­fect four years ago. ‘‘But we’ve hardly sold any in Thai­land be­cause the Thai Govern­ment put a big tax on en­gine size and all the Aus­tralian (made) cars have larger en­gines.

‘‘I’m not a pro­tec­tion­ist. I don’t want a big­ger tar­iff, but we must main­tain the 5 per cent tar­iff.’’

Camillo says the strength of the Aus­tralian dol­lar makes it ‘‘ex­tremely hard’’ for Aus­tralian car­mak­ers to ex­port to off­set their shrink­ing share of their home mar­ket.

They would have to ‘‘go green’’ and build en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly cars to sell here and over­seas to help sur­vive.

‘‘It’s vi­tal we main­tain a man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try here,’’ he says.

‘‘If we stop car­mak­ing, that highly skilled work­force will dis­ap­pear.

‘‘If all we have are im­ported cars, prices will go up and ev­ery­one ends up los­ing.’’

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