The Cars Australia Built: A Eulogy To Local Motoring

Remember when we used to build things? Not “we” like you and me, but we like Australia. We’re a country that built stuff like Wi-Fi, the Hills Hoist, the ultrasound and the goonbag. We were also a country that built great cars. Now we don’t do any of those things. These are the cars Australia built.

Confirmed: Toyota To Close Australian Manufacturing Facilities, Design Centre

Ford. Holden. Toyota. These three companies have dominated discussion around the Australian car industry over the last few months. Both sides of the political dogfight have accused the other of not doing enough to help the local industry, but as they talk, men and women were being told on factory floors around the country that their jobs soon wouldn’t exist, and nor would everything they had worked to build.

At the peak of the Australian manufacturing boom in the mid-2000s, 388,000 cars were rolling off local production lines. That’s more than six times the amount of cars being made in Australia when we first started building cars in the 1950s. But our heritage of building cars goes back further than that.

At the turn of the century, steam powered cars were being driven from Bathurst to Melbourne at less than 14km/h. Just a year later, a petrol-powered model was developed in Melbourne, with a tiny 6-horsepower engine at its core.

Compare those numbers with figures out last year, and you find that Australia only built 209,000 vehicles locally. Those numbers will fall dramatically in the next few years as manufacturers shutter their factories around the country. We may soon get to a point where all the cars driven by Australians were made overseas.

Back then, it made sense for us to make our own vehicles: we were a tiny island on the bottom of the world with a toolkit and a ballooning sense of national pride. We could make cars better than the Americans who were importing them, so we started to build.

We formed clubs around the cars we built, with the nation’s oldest surviving advocacy group — The Australian Motoring Association — dating back to 1903. The Australian Automobile Association grew out of it in the 1920’s, and we still have it around today.

The three headline-grabbing car companies aren’t the only ones who have tried and failed at building cars in Australia due to one reason or another. There have been many more before them over the last few decades.

These are a few of those cars.

Australian Motor Industries

Rambler AMX. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Australian Motor Industries was a curious bunch. Founded in 1926 in Melbourne, AMI benefited from post-war demand for new vehicles, and government tariffs on the import of new vehicle bodies.

The company reorganised several times, and in the process picked up contracts for the assembly of a few different vehicles across various manufacturers.

AMI collected a series of different contracts to assemble cars in Australia, notably from American Motors or AMC. From 1969 to 1978, AMI built 24 different varieties of AMC vehicles in Port Melbourne.

AMI also assembled tractors under a deal with Fiat, Mercedes Benz vehicles under a deal with Daimler-Benz, Triumph cars, and eventually, Toyota cars.

Toyota acquired a controlling stake and interest in AMI in the 1960’s after the Aussie builders spent years assembling everything from the Toyota Crown, Corona and Corolla. AMI held the honour of being the first company to assemble a Toyota outside of Japan.

AMI worked out of a factory in Port Melbourne for much of its life. That Port Melbourne production was eventually shifted to Altona in Victoria in 1994, and yesterday Toyota announced that it would close it by 2017.


British Leyland

Morris Mini K. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Not many people assume that British Leyland, a company that famously spent more time on strike than building cars, would come all the way to Australia, but what’s in a name, anyway?

After a series of mergers between Nuffield Australia and the Australian arm of the Austin Motor Company, paired with the merger of the parent British Motoring Corporation in the UK merging with Leyland, Australia got the Leyland Motor Corporation of Australia by the 1960’s. During this time of business dealings happening left and right, the two companies produced a bunch of cars for the Australian market in the post-war period.

Working out of a factory in Zetland, Sydney between 1950 and 1975, the company produced cars including Austin Lancer, Morris Major, Austin Freeway, Wolseley 24/80 and the Morris 1100.

It was also Leyland Motor Corporation of Australia who brought the Mini to Australia in 1961, badged as the Morris 850. It would soon become Australia-specific in 1965 with the Morris Mini Deluxe. Another Australia specific Mini of note came in 1969 with the Deluxe MKII. Instead of the abbreviation standing for “Mark Two”, it stood for Morris Kangaroo thanks to its Australia-specific design and build. It even came with Kangaroo decals. The Mini became so popular in Australia that the police were using them as pursuit vehicles in the 1960’s.

Leyland pulled out of Australia in 1974, closing the Zetland factory the year after. So ended 25 years of glorious Australian manufacturing excellence.


Chrysler

Chrysler Valiant. Image: Wikimedia Commons

While Chrysler Australia operated mostly as an importer for foreign made vehicles under the Jeep, Dodge, Fiat and Alfa Romeo brands, a small subsidiary existed in the local marketplace existed for actually building cars here.

Back in the 1950’s, Chrysler Australia was founded, and over the next two decades, invested in a Clovelly Park manufacturing plant, as well as an additional engine plant.

The most notable output of the Chrysler operation in Australia was the Valiant, marketed in the US as a Plymouth Valiant.

Chrysler Australia worked on a local version, finally releasing it as the distinctly styled AP5 Valiant in the early-1960’s. It developed the Valiant locally in Australia through to the mid-1970’s.

Mitsubishi eventually acquired a sizeable interest in Chrysler Australia after their close collaboration, and eventually in 1980, the company changed its name to Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.

Chrysler has since returned to Australia as a distributor only.


Of course, there are many more manufacturers who have called Australia home.

Smaller manufactures and tuning houses have also set up shop in Australia, including Volkswagen, Toyota, Ford, Holden and Nissan.

We don’t even make many components for cars anymore: Australia’s last tyre manufacturer closed in 2010.

Australia’s manufacturing sector isn’t dead yet, but it’s close. How’s that Knowledge Economy coming along, I wonder? Oh that's right. It's barely on its feet yet.

Godspeed, Australian manufacturing.

Cover image: Flickr


Comments

    You can blame the unions for the over-priced labor conditions imposed on Australian automotive manufacturing. Holden employees found to be affected by drugs are sent on a fully paid rehabilitation course with special paid time off of about 4 weeks, and that's just 1 of the idiotic clauses imposed by unions. Holden can't even sack anybody caught dealing, taking or being affected by drugs while on the job.

    And of course all of this goes back onto the workers who sign up to these unions and support the ludicrous demands placed on the companies. So while I feel sorry for the country as a whole for losing an industry that should be a cornerstone of local manufacturing and employment, I have zero empathy for those who have anything to do with the unions, leader or member, for putting the manufacturers in that unsustainable position.

      Wow... wasn't aware the Unions had that much clout..! Seems to me, without the support from the Gov't they were on a slippery slope anyway. I don't agree with Abbott on well... pretty much anything, but this may be the one thing that needed doing. Hopefully history will prove out...!

        as somebody who has worked with union members. It's ridiculous the kind of crap they get away with. I remember one site I was working on, where the union members would regularly come up late because apparently they were entitled to get morning coffee before work. So the managers bought a top of the line coffee machine to put on site, so that they will come on time and have their coffee there, and still they come in late because apparently, McD coffee is somehow better than company-paid, good quality coffee. And we're not allowed to give them any kind of penalty for being tardy because if we do, they go on a strike/sit-in and things are officially shut down because of "industrial action"

      A good Liberal right here. So how many years did they accept a pay freeze for to keep Holden in the country? Did Holden stay, or was that not the real issue?

        Was that before or after negotiating a base salary rate of $1194.50 per week, 168% above the award rate? Or after the introduction of "hardship payments" of $3750 to each and every worker? Or the requirement to have 1 team leader for every 6 workers on the production line, necessitating 1 in every 7 production line workers is on an even higher salary?

        I'd take a pay freeze too if I was being paid 168% above my current salary. Hell, I'd be laughing. Right up until the point where the business went bust and I lost my job. Even then, if I worked for Holden on the production line, my redundancy package would be in the vicinity of $300,000-$500,000 depending on time served, so I'd probably continue to laugh for a good time afterwards anyway.

          So keep the poor poor, the rich rich, and the middle class thinning out?

            What a ridiculous response and a sure sign of someone with a sense of entitlement. I'd suggest paying someone what they deserve based on their contribution to a company's earnings. You really think it's best to pay someone more at the expense of an entire industry's viability? Leaving them, and generations to come, without a form of employment? Not because they've earned it, mind you, just because it's 'fair'.

              You're the one advocating that skilled workers working long hours are paid far too much getting $15k less than the national average per year.

                I'm not sure where you're figures are coming from, but my calculations based on ABS figures show that it's closer to $12,000 and that's a BASE figure. In other words, someone who drops out of school at year 10 could go and earn a MINIMUM $62,000. Not to mention the compounding 4.4% annual salary increase as part of Holden's enterprise agreement bargained by the union, meaning that after a few short years, a school drop-out is earning more than the National average. Yep, sounds fair and sustainable to me.

                  Lost my temper. Sorry.

                  Short of it, I have a trade qualification, I work damn hard (60 hour weeks taking a lot of shit), take a lot of pride in my work and do everything to support my family and give my kids a decent life. Don't really appreciate being told I don't deserve it.

                  Last edited 11/02/14 5:32 pm

                  Yea it's definitely not Holden and Fords fault for failing to adapt to the market while continuing to produce cars with a declining market share, not adapting to diesel models, and not building anything they could export. And why would Toyota stay after they leave?

                  @Freeze It happens, but I never said at any stage that someone who drops out of school doesn't deserve the opportunity to support themselves and their family. My point was that unsustainable bargaining agreements helped to create a situation where someone with zero qualifications, so someone who put in a lot less sweat and effort than you or I have, can earn greater than National average income doing entry level work. I'm sure you wouldn't appreciate an apprentice earning more than you? Income should reflect value and effort, not how strong your union reps are.

                  @dknigs I have no doubt that there are many contributing factors, but the fact is everybody makes mistakes when strategising for future business. However, the union's behaviour in the auto industry was one factor that simply didn't need to cause/hasten the industry's death and SHOULD have been avoided. It has been a blatant cash grab by greedy, short sighted individuals leading a mass of people with mob-mentality. It's nothing short of criminal.

                  Last edited 11/02/14 6:06 pm

                  Eh, I'm just upsetting myself over something I shouldn't be.

                  Last edited 11/02/14 6:26 pm

                As opposed to being paid nothing at all because the business can't generate enough cash flow to offset those operating expenses? Which would you prefer, if you were one such worker given that choice?

                whats skilled about putting a bolt in a hole and tigtening up a nut.
                The skilled people are the ones who design, not assemble.
                The skilled people are the ones who make the robots to replace the slackers

          Someone could do your job overseas for a quarter of what you're paid. You should take a massive pay cut to take pressure off your employer.

            Cheap overseas workforces tend to work in areas of unskilled or semi-skilled labor. Since my industry requires specific qualifications and training, I'm sorry, but you're incorrect. That's the difference between someone who's prepared to work hard to build a strong career, and someone who can sign a union membership contract that contributes to the decline of an industry. And no, I'm not going to apologise to anybody for having a strong work ethos and pride in what I aim to achieve.

              Tell that to the tens of thousands of qualified mech engineers China produces from its universities every year. I'm sure they wont like you telling them they are unskilled labour.

              You mean like all the engineers, doctors, programmers, etc coming out of India who will work for less money than you will?

                Precisely why I don't rest on my laurels. What do you think is going to happen anyway? You think that in this day and age of global economies, that Government can step in to protect every industry, regardless of viability? My industry is already under immense stress from global competition, which is why we're adapting. Strangely enough, we're not all forming a union and demanding insanely high wages in the face of tougher overseas competition.

                  I'd be pretty confident in presuming you, who think others should be paid less, are paid well over 80k per year. Correct?

                  Dead wrong actually, my opinions and arguments are based on nothing more than sensible business strategy. So you can stop trying to wear that 'downtrodden-underdog' badge of honour.

          http://resources.news.com.au/files/2013/12/11/1226780/877147-aus-news-file-holden-eba-2011.pdf

          That's Holdens EBA. Base wage is 892$ could you please point out the sections of all the other "facts" you are stating.

            And average weekly Earnings (before tax) = $1485.80 (as of May 2013).

            Add to that the fact that at one point Holden was receiving grants roughly equivalent to their entire wage bill... really, the complaints about high wages don't hold water. The work being done was (from what I understand) semi-skilled, boring and occasionally dangerous; boring, dangerous work usually carries a premium and these guys were working for less than the national average. How much less is debatable, but it does seem to have been less, by 20-30% or so.

            The head of Toyota said why they were leaving: High exchange rates and a depressed global economy.

      Typical right-wing crocodile tears: don't give a stuff if auto workers lived in abject poverty for generations, but if they dared to join a union to demand better wages and conditions they deserve unemployment and when their billionaire employers decides to throw them to the scrapheap to marginally increase their IRR, cry foul and nostalgically sentimentalise about "our" golden past.

      Of course the whole system is rotten. We should put human beings before capital profitability, but hey I'm a loony lefty to believe such nonsense.

        You're complaining about crocodile tears, then you go on to make clearly hyperbolic statements like automotive industry workers living in 'abject poverty'? Come on, hessam, you just completely undermined your argument by doing the very thing you were complaining about.

          Sure, should have been more clear: it's because of the historical role of the unions in advanced capitalist countries that all workers, including auto workers in countries Australia, unlike their un-unionised counterparts in countries like Iran don't live in abject poverty today. But anyone with a dash of historical literacy is aware of the right-wing opposition to trade unionism at the turn of 20th century, the very thing that lifted the working class out of its horrendous living conditions. This vital historical role that underpins the reality of life in Australia today, ie (relative) low crime, low unemployment, low poverty, low inequality etc, that has made Australia a place worth living in for ALL of us, is what is deliberately forgotten in all these Murdoch press-style "debates" about unions and unionism.

          Thanks for calling me out to clarify.

            I removed the downvote, I appreciate you clarifying, but I still think it's a disingenuous exercise to compare Australian unionised worker wages with Iranian non-unionised worker wages and say the unions have much if anything to do with the difference at all.

            Whether it may seem conservative or Liberal or otherwise, the fact is businesses in capitalist societies need to make a profit to survive, and if they're not doing that they will shut down and their workers will be out of jobs. Handouts and tax breaks are bandaid fixes, not solutions. Yeah it would suck, but I'd rather take home reduced pay than no pay because the company shut down. Or worse, no pay and no job prospects because all the companies in the industry shut down.

              Not disingenuous at all, but I'm no fan of internet back-and-forths, so on a broader point you may find these charts interesting. Certainly won't see them in The Australian.
              http://www.epi.org/blog/union-decline-rising-inequality-charts/

              On the profitability point, I mostly agree, and that's why I said in my original comment that the real problem is with the rotten nature of a socio-economic system that revolves around competition and profitability rather than cooperation and human need. Anyhow, I'm out. Cheers.

                No argument with the stats. Unionism was necessary at the time it arose, but it got too big for its britches and lost sight of the original intent.

                The reasons proffered for union membership decline seemed to me a tad selective. No mention was made of compulsory membership, high fees, harassment and stand-over tactics of non-union members, nepotism and cronyism, job protection for deadwood, less chances for advancement for the productive workers and, as we still see in today's courts, corruption and abuse of position.

                Fundamentally, I agree with you. Unionism COULD and SHOULD be a mechanism used to strike a balance in our socio-economic system between profitability, cooperation, and universal welfare. Sadly, collective human nature doesn't seem to allow that.

      The whole workers are over paid is a fraud. The automotive industry was perfectly profitable back in nineteen fourty five when the minimum wage was four hundred pounds a year. While that may seem less, it was four hundred percent of the current minimum wage. The ninety two percent silver currency had buying power to the point where four hundred pounds in nineteen fourty five is equal to ninety two thousand dollars as of twenty fourteen. Care to have you pay raised back up to the nineteen fourty five minimum wage from the less than twenty five percent it is now or is being paid less so the folks who were on ten thousand pounds a year can up their salaries ok with you?

      Summary for anyone reading this thread:
      - Low production for small Aussie market, low export numbers due to high Aussie dollar.
      - The latest generations of cars did not fit market demands, economy, smaller, no diesels.
      - Cars were undesirable as exports as it's only us and 'merica that think we all need to drive bus sized cars.
      - Whoever's fault it is it just costs to much to employ Australian's when compared globally.
      - Most car manufacturing is government subsidized. The difference is when America subsidizes GM, and when Germany subsidizes BMW they are subsidizing a local company. Australia would have been subsidizing non-local companies with tax payer money (yes the only thing 'stryian' about Holden is the brand name).
      - For the past 8 years the industry as a whole has posted losses, unsustainable. Subsidies would have struggled to make it break even let alone profitable enough for a company to explain to it's shareholders its a good investment to manufacture in Australia.

    Is it too soon to ask if they'll be dropping the luxury car tax in 2017? :-P

      as if. Tony needs every cent there is to balance the budget and he will probably hold off reviewing the need for the luxury car tax for as long as he can so he can get more money out of us.

    That's an absurd oversimplification. Exchange rates, low to almost non-existent import duties/tariffs, and by global standards very low production volumes were significant contributors.

    This is a volume related business. It needs volume to amortise the significant fixed costs in tooling, development and factory infrastructure costs....not so much the labour of actually screwing the things together.

    There is a significant over supply of manufacturing capacity globally. Which means those factories are competing/undercutting each other to get the volume to keep them running....which is basically why all automotive manufacturing globally is Govt subsidised.

    With some 60+ brands on the local market the Aus market is one of the most competitive in the world. We have the lowest tariffs and non-tariff barriers to entry to our market, and a dollar that has made exports too expensive and imports too cheap.

    The vehicles we made are considered to be niche products with low volume potential in those markets we could export to. How many Commodores or Falcons do you think could be sold in Europe when the average vehicle is smaller than a Mazda 3?

    Exporting to the US is limited by the low value of the US dollar, making what we do send there expensive, and that's pretty much the only market that could take volume of Commodore or Falcon. Apart from the middle east.

    Then there's the basic reality that Commodore and Falcon are too big even for most Aussies! What large cars we are buying are SUV's, with a large sales increase in diesel. Neither Falcon or Commodore offered a Diesel.

    Camry offered a hybrid, but when Toyota assembles Camry in Thailand and several other countries where we have FTA's why wouldn't they build in Thailand for our market. Increase the volume in the Thailand plant which would further reduce the fixed cost component of vehicles coming out of that plant.

    The real problem is wrong products, in too low volumes combined with a weak US dollar and massive over capacity overseas.

    The labour cost is a side issue! I'm saying that as someone who is not a union member, and not very impressed with their conduct.

    One thing the article doesn't mention is the minimum local content requirements that underpinned the local auto industry, up to the release of the Button Car plan.

      'The real problem is wrong products'. Bingo.

      Also a fact that is overlooked, that the Camry made here costs $3800 per vehicle more than the ones made in Asia. Same components same design, only difference, labour costs. Now I'd like to see the AMWU defend the practice of workers being paid for 4 hours per month to donate blood, without proof of actually donating. We are stupid if we think this is ok.

    Most of the discussion here is very simplistic and much of it blames one group, the unions, for what happened in the car industry. However cars are not the only things made in Australia and there never was any point in us trying to compete with cars from overseas because most of them are built in very low wage countries and there are many complexities in exchange rates and there is a great reluctance on the part of Australians to invest in Australian businesses.

    However manufacturing in Australia is not dead! Australia is the world's biggest manufacturer of aluminium ships, manufactures very desirable light aeroplanes which are sold all over the world. And with Ford, GM and Toyota gone there are still motor vehicles being manufactured here and sold all over the world. Australia is also a manufacturer of very high quality medical and industrial instrumentation although due to government incompetence and ignorance we are gradually being pushed out of these two markets by foreign but larger companies that manufacture inferior equipment.

    What Australia needs to do is to realise that we have world beating scientists and technologists here and we need to support them and not, as the Abbott government has done, toss them into the rubbish bin.

    Making second rate cars in Australia was never a good idea and the cars made here were never in any real sense Australian, they were always adaptations of foreign designs and they were never appropriate for our market or indeed any other country's market. That's why the car industry needed to die here.

    If we are smart enough we will retrain our manufacturing workforce to build new, high tech and highly relevant products that we can sell to the world, along with aluminium ships and light aeroplanes. Are we going to be smart about it? The Abbott government certainly won't be unless we, the electorate, kick it and continue to kick, hard, until it does the right thing or resigns and lets better people be elected.

    So now that Toyota aren't manufacturing Camry in Aus, can we get rid of the whale of an Aurion and replace it with the imported Crown?

    I find it strange how everyone wants to find one single factor to blame for the death of the car industry. Truth is its a combination of many factors and all the points here are valid when not taken in isolation.

    Whilst it is sad to lose a job, many of us who work in other sectors like finance and services would love to have 3 years notice of redundancy. The majority of aussie workers get 1 month's notice whilst being shown the door immediately.

    The other surprising thing to me is the component manufacturers who say they rely 90% on one supplier. The writing has been on the wall for car manufacturers for years so why haven't they invested money in diversifying their business? Perhaps the short term profits were too easy compared to investing money in R&D and expanding markets.

      For 'one supplier' read 'one customer' :)

      I'm not sure many people realise this. There isn't a whole lot of profit in supplying an OEM. Many component manufacturers have been just surviving on 8% margins. What most people do not realise is that the OEM's demand "productivity" improvements...ie cost reductions on the parts they buy of approximately 3% per annum. So the suppliers spend a great deal of their time trying to take cost out of the products they already supply. An 8% profit margin is barely enough to just keep going, but difficult to take the risk of developing products for other markets that you do not currently have market assets in. But as you point out the writing has been on the wall for a while.

      It astonishes me that assistance wasn't given to help these suppliers diversify before the situation became critical.

    No one has mentioned the elephant in the room, the fact that Australian made cars just weren't that good. In terms of build quality and value they were always subpar and the marketing of them rested on the image of buying Australian made.

    Ultimately you can't keep up with the value propositions of other companies and you die out, that's natural selection for. Good riddance I say, I'd like to see the import taxes lower/removed now that there isn't local production. Bring on the high quality Japanese and Euro cars at lower costs.

      exactly... Holden can pretty much pack their bags... the only reason why they were selling it here was locally made / real Australian pride etc ...

      ...unless they drop prices

    I wonder if the Australian motor industry would of survived if the government made it a law that all fleet cars have to be Australian made. If you get a free car to drive. It should be Australian made. Support for Australian industry is non existent. We should be more like the US in thatrespect.

      Comcars represent less than 5000 vehicles. Not going to make a difference. No company would cop being held to ransom on what cars they can or cannot buy. Thats communism. And what if the company runs off road 4x4 tours? They have to buy a Camry?

        http://www.themotorreport.com.au/#/57079/how-novated-leasing-and-an-fbt-perk-choked-australian-cars

      Everything in our fleet is Holden/Ford except 4x4th... all the cop cars that I see are the same... maybe we should have increase fleet cars quantities ... like triple them ? so every employee drives a gov car ... that is locally made.

    I've been driving for about 22 years now, all my cars have been locally made products, they have never let me down, so what if my $40K Commodore isn't as good as a $150K BMW, anyone who spends $150K on a car is a knob head anyway considering how much of that goes straight to Canberra.
    The car industry here could have survived but the government and small minded people didn't want it to.
    Any government vehicle purchased must be made here, import duties/tariffs needed to be on par with other countries, workers paid a wage suitable to skill level. We are going to regret this and to think I voted for Abbott, Damn it!

    Sure Holden was selling less Commodore's than years gone by, but in 2012 the Commodore alone nearly outsold every Honda vehicle combined, add the local Cruze to those figures and to me that seems like it was chugging along just fine over there in SA.

    Euro cars will not become cheaper, instead we will end up like NZ with a bigger flood of cheap junk from Asia.

      So I'm a knob head if I spend more money than you to purchase a higher quality product, because some of that money will go to my own government? Actually, considering the current government I think I do agree - I'd rather all the money go to the clever German engineers, they'll spend it on better projects than any Aussie government will :D

        You'll find those clever Germans are subsidised by their own govt as well.

          They were and now they are back on track... in our case they failed to produce business plan on how they planing to recover with the given $... that actually says a lot

          Last edited 12/02/14 9:15 am

            End of last financial year they were still receiving $90 per capita in assistance. Compared to $18 for holden... That actually says a lot.

      Gillard gave GMH $250 million in 2012, stating this would keep them here until 2020. What happened to that money? Don't be so ignorant. The parent companies had decided they weren't ever going to stay here, they just needed an excuse. 4 months of Abbott has zero relativity and to claim so is just hyperbole.

    This Hills Hoist isn't even made in Australia anymore!

    Why can't they keep production in Australia?

    It's not like cars are being overtaken by cheaper, newer technology. Wouldn't the demand be the same it has always been?

      Demand isn't the problem. The cost to produce a car locally, which includes but is not limited to local worker salaries, is too high to be competitive with imported foreign-made vehicles. Over the years the government has tried to insulate the local industry with tax breaks, import tax disincentives and outright handouts, and none of it has stemmed the losses.

        Ahh damn.

        They couldn't just lower the pay to workers?

          They tried to negotiate that, but the unions wouldn't budge on the minimum pay, from what I hear.

          The base wage for an unskilled factory worker is $45,000. The base wage for an unskilled worker in a car assembly plant is $75,000, and with allowances that gets up as high as $95,000.

          Read Grace Collier from the Australian, she has explained it perfectly.

          http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/enterprise-bargaining-with-union-sealed-fate/story-fnkdypbm-1226781040913#

    We also had Volkswagen, Volvo, Datsun and Nissan operating out of Clayton. My father worked there and I can tell you he never got rich working on an assembly line in those days, he was better off than an unskilled factory worker but he earned every cent.

    I vividly remember him telling me when the Button Plan came out in 1983 to stay the hell away from manufacturing in Australia. His view was that Australia would remove protections for large scale manufacturing in Australia but alas the rest of the world wouldn't, oh how right he was.

    His view then and I still stand by it is that we need to be making things that are on the forefront of innovation for us to have any future in manufacturing, this of course assumes we want a middle class!

    Just glad he isn't around to see his prediction that all auto manufacturing would be dead before his grandson started driving. (actually wish he was still around but you get my drift).

      I agree the Button Plan was what started the rot.
      Its successive mindless reductions in the tariffs on imported cars never made any sense whatsoever.

      Since then, Both Liberal and Labor governments blindly followed the bizarre economic "dry" dogma behind the Button plan without ever questioning it. So brazenly did they plunge headlong down this path, you have to wonder if some of the pollies and bureaucrats were getting kickbacks from the car importers.

      The tariffs were progessively reduced until we got to the point where the tariffs are now so low, Australian car manufacturing plants simply cannot compete. Absurdly, government revenue from tariffs also plummeted - shot themselves in the budget foot there.

      The bureaucrats and politicians conveniently ignored the fact that Aussie manufacturers are not competing on a level playing field. Nearly every other auto manufacturing nation heavily protects their auto industry and limits imports via tariffs, bureaucratic red tape, corruption and massive subsidies.

      Weak minded Australian politicians, both Liberal and Labor, and their inept adviser bureaucrats in their Canberra ivory towers have now destroyed the car manufacturing industry in Australia.

      The financial press estimates the closures will result in total auto industry job losses of about 200,000.

      I haven't even covered the strategic Defence implications of losing manufacturing capability and skills.

      The Button Plan and its spawn represents the most spectacular failure of public policy this country has ever seen.

      Well done, Australian federal politicians, both current and from the last 30 years. I hope you are satisfied with your betrayal of Australia. You should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.

    I believe the slide started with the Button report, saying the number of manufacturers was unsustainable. Nissan were making small cars that people were asking for. Ford, GMH concentrated on the 6 & 8 cylinder vehicles but, apart from the small group of Bathurst racers, it was in decline, they should have continued with replacement of the Cortina and even a smaller car; likewise at GMH nothing really replaced the Torana, Toyota had the right mix - small Corolla medium Corona then they got bigger and the Corolla disappeared from the assembly line. They should never have tried to compete with Ford & GMH with the larger cars, especially the Aurion. It was same at Chrysler, the last CM Valiant was probably their best but then big problems back home in the US, so they disappeared. Mitsubishi had a couple of popular models in the Galant and Magna but really lost it, at the whim of the boss when they introduced the 380 ; a good car by all accounts, but at the wrong time. All their efforts should have gone on a locally built Lancer.
    in the meantime small cars were being imported by the shipload from Japan, Korea, Thailand Malaysia even the European makers saw the trend.
    Subaru and Honda had niche markets when they arrived, whilst still making/importing excellent vehicles,they are the following the trend of the 60s - 'Big is Better'. Sadly their original buyers are missing out because of their luxury, overpriced cars.

    Size of the market and noncompetitive exports, simple as that.
    The Mega-factories in Asia pump out millions of cars a year in very high-tech robotic assembly lines that almost make the cars themselves.It's a lot cheaper to increase output on those lines rather than run a separate factory on the other side of the world.

    It is a very generous agreement, and the provision that unions had approval/disapprove rights on use of casual and contract labor is bloody ridiculous.

    @pepee63 Amen to that! I've been going through all the comments to see if anyone had picked THAT one up. Having all fleet cars for ANY government dept, state or Federal, might have made a significant difference, I reckon. Many years ago, in Malaysia, I noticed that the Australian High Commissioner's official car was a Holden Statesman - and at the time I thought "Good on them to support the Australian car industry, rather than do the usual with a big shiny Mercedes, BMW, or Jaguar - just because you can". Sooo, I move to Australia, and I see that most government cars are imported. Go figure.

    Last edited 12/02/14 12:41 am

    The unions killed the Oz car manufacturing industry, just like they killed BL in the 70's Don't blame the government, past or present.

    ok, so for some of you dimwits out there here are the facts. trade deals made which disadvantage everday Australians have been going on for the last 30 or so years. selling out Australia seems to be federal government number 1 priororty. currently now we have more than 65 different brands of motor vehicle sold in austrtalia this all came about as a result of the federal gov reducing taxes and tariffs.the flood gades opened and forced local industry to suffer, if we maintained the taxes and tariffs on imports like we did in the past there would be less brands swamping the market, we would not have the likes of tata, chery, great wall etc. the local manufacturing would still be sustainable, same shit has happened across a whole range of industry from smelting, we just lost three Alcoa plants, farms, rescources and now the gov has given the green light for Qantas to be sold to foreign interest, we have spineles government who care only for them selves.. time we stand and support this great country while we can still call it ours.

    Leyland Australia's close down was primarily because of the failure of the parent company, British Leyland, to stay profitable. A situation caused by both militant unions and poor management

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