So it’s been a rough couple of years for the car industry in Australia.
A while back we lost Mitsubishi. Then we lost Ford.
Then a couple of months ago, General-Motors Holden.
And yesterday, Toyota.
Jobs to be lost (including the components market) are in the region of 50,000 – 100,000, depending on whose estimate you believe. Invisible effect on that on banks, local services, whitegoods, retailers, and the public purse? Impossible to calculate, but huge.
And this is in the most successful capitalist economy in the world, right now.
The blame game is well underway, of course. Books have been and will be written on the consummate failure of successive Governments and the business community to grapple with the endemic problems of the local industry – a small local market, for one, and competing with lower wage cost economies for another, or operations in countries where the taxpayer support is even more generous than it has already been in Australia.
But as someone who has been intimately involved in marketing cars in Australia for 25 years, the real culprit is obvious to those who have had anything to do with the industry.
It is in the consistent lack of imagination and courage in the upper levels of management of the companies concerned, and the marketing management specifically.
First: by persisting in chasing lower price tickets rather than higher value, year after year, ignoring the fact that better value, better looking, and better performing cars did and do command a premium. Second: by persisting in producing four door V6 and V8 sedans when the market was crying out for innovation in small cars, two seaters, and SUVs. And third: by forgetting, constantly, the cardinal rule of all car advertising – consumers buy models, not ranges.
Because let us be clear: the new car sales market in Australia is actually doing rather well. We’re just buying far too many imported cars, and not enough local ones. And the reason is simple.
They’re better cars, that answer local desires more closely.
Let’s just have a look at the lost companies. One thing links them all. They’re all overseas firms, for whom Australia is a tiny little market on the outer edge of the known universe. We haven’t actually had an “Australian” car industry in, like, ever.
But now, ironically, amidst all the doom and gloom, we have a chance to build one.
All over the world, small, fast-reacting car companies are producing exciting, stylish, innovative vehicles in small numbers, and selling them to a market that is hungry for new ideas, new features, and for the sheer joy of a great new car.
There are only three major American car manufacturers in the USA now, for example. Chrysler, Ford and GM. There are also, however, more than 30 small, independent car manufacturers (or engine/drivetrain manufacturers) catering to niche markets, often high-end, high-profit, and low overall numbers produced, or utilising new electric technologies. Of these the best-known in Australia is probably Tesla.
In the UK, Morgan produce 640 hand-made sports roadsters cars a year from their Malvern factory. The waiting list varies between one and two years.
Even the Czech Republic has Tatra, a commerical truck and off-road builder. That’s on a population half the size of Australia’s.
I could go on listing, but I’ve made my point.
So this is my challenge to every banker in Australia, every car guy, every entrepreneur, every politician, and every journo.
Vast amounts of productive capacity, and vast amounts of human potential, are about to be wantonly be flung on the scrap heap.
Is it really beyond the wit and wisdom of our entire country to pick up the soon-to-be dismantled manufacturing equipment and spaces for a song (because we sure as hell don’t owe their previous owner’s anything), and the best and brightest of the existing workforce, and start creating a uniquely Australian car that meets our needs, and most of all our desires, perfectly – at a price that middle Australia can afford – and to sell it as not just a patriotic emblem, but also a “must have” product that people will love?
When you rich and powerful people get your shit together, I know an ad agency that would like to be involved.
I can’t believe this is beyond us. I don’t want to believe that. I refuse to believe it. And that’s a start.
If you agree, please reproduce this article on your Facebook page, Twitter, Reddit, send it to your local paper, print it out and give it to you bank manager, MP, whoever you like.
But join the call. Because we can do this, if we try.