A race to the finish for Ford and Holden?
Mark Twain had the bizarre pleasure of reading his own obituary. It would be a salutary experience.
The obit for Australian car manufacturing, however, has the aspect of a soap opera. It’s been running for years with the same grinding inevitability and fading stars.
Rumours that the death have of those one-time Strayan icons – Ford’s Falcon and Holden’s Commodore – have not in fact been exaggerated were confirmed today at the Detroit motor show. Once the champions in the two-horse race that was the local new car stakes, both nameplates will be sent to the knackery in 2016 (or at best be assigned to imported American models).
In the case of the Falcon particularly, the announcement is in the manner of a mercy killing. Though heavily subsidised and discounted it sputtered to a miserable 14,000 sales in 2012. The single best-selling model of the year, the ubiquitous Mazda3 small car, did more than 44,000.
Perhaps more tellingly, the fallen local hero was left behind by the Thai-made Ford Focus, an excellent small car festooned with clever equipment, imported under the free trade agreement.
Adieu too to the Territory SUV that is based on and built alongside the Falcon. Just as the Falcon is displaced by the Yank made Taurus, the only home-made SUV is deleted for the Explorer as Ford becomes a full importer.
It’s only slightly less surprising that the writing for the Commodore has moved from the wall to the tombstone.
The Commodore lost 25 per cent of its sales last year, slumping to a historic low of 30,000. This, coming barely after Holden said 320 jobs are in jeopardy at its V6 engine making plant, is hardly an auspicious introduction to next month’s new, more upmarket VF Commodore.
There is a sense of relief that the pretence is finally over. Certainly American auto executives won’t miss their annual Detroit hazing by Australian journalists determined to extract some crumb as to the future of cars assembled in Melbourne and Adelaide.
The question is, while this marks the end of something, does it signify the beginning of something else?
Holden has committed to local manufacture until 2022, but surely that is contingent on succeeding in the world’s most feverishly competitive new car market, one in which 60 brands vie for one million sales.
Holden will bolt together a second vehicle at its Elizabeth plant from 2017, almost certainly a compact SUV. But that market segment is almost as overpopulated as the small car area in which Holden’s respectable, but far from class-leading, Cruze lost sales last year.
If the odds are stacked against a buyer led recovery for Holden, it will be a courageous government of the day that forks over further taxpayer millions to subsidise the manufacture of cars that aren’t selling sufficiently.
Then it will be a case administering the last rites.
Paul Pottinger is editor of News Limited’s Carsguide.
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