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).
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The sad reality is we can expect many more closures similar to the collapse this morning of Australian car manufacturing supplier Autodom.
And in an industry that thrives on having parts delivered “just in time”, the impacts of such closures are going to get worse, not better.
As the number of Australian-made cars declines, so too do the chances for local suppliers to survive. Most of the 300 or so companies that make the 5000 or so parts that make up a new car must sell to all three local makers – Holden, Ford and Toyota – just to stay in business.
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Australia’s car manufacturing industry is facing a self-inflicted crisis. After a decade of sliding demand for the locally made Holden Commodore, Ford Falcon and Toyota Camry, car makers have blamed everything but themselves.
But the hard reality is Australian customers are fed up with the half-baked bullshit our car industry serves up and refuse to buy an inferior product simply because it’s Australian made.
Massive discounts to woo back disgruntled customers have been too little too late, as recent figures show Australian consumers have made up their minds and prefer superior foreign made cars.
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Reports of the big Australian-built car’s death are – as Twain quipped – an exaggeration, or at least grossly premature. But there’s no denying the patient has gone from just looking a bit poorly to possibly needing palliative care.
The little Mazda3 trounced the 5-year top seller Holden Commodore in 2011, after the big boy slid about 12 per cent in sales. And the Ford Falcon fared worse with a 36 per cent slump. Between them, they hold 81 per cent of the large car segment, with the Aussie-built Toyota Aurion owning 12 per cent – but also diving 24 per cent in sales last year.
The large car segment overall was down 21 per cent in 2011, echoing three years of slides that have seen sales move from 139,677 in 2007 to 78,077 last year.
So over that time, the pulse has dropped 44 per cent. It’s fading. And only the most evasive physician would pretend otherwise. Tell ‘em, doc – they can take it.
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And just for all you rev-heads, on this day in 1927 the very last Model T Ford rolled off the assembly line in Michigan, USA. This little beauty was the first car to be mass produced on an assembly line and was arguably the most influential automobile in history. What’s been the most influential car in your life? The little MG that broke-down on first dates? Or maybe your beloved VW Beetle that you managed to fit 10 university students in?
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Bathurst has become a bland, vanilla, tedious waste of petrol. Let me explain by way of an anecdote.
In the mid 2000s, I wrote an in-depth Alpha magazine feature on The Super Cheap-Ass 1000, or whatever the Bathurst Race was called back then.
I was embedded, if you will, with one of the major teams. After practise one day, I rode back to town with the driver of the “B Car” (most big Bathurst teams have two cars. Officially, they’re both the same, but everyone knows the good drivers get the “A” car and the lesser drivers the “B” car).
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