Automotive engineers body seeks support for Australian-made concept car

Calls grow to revive Aussie car industry.

Hard on the heels of maverick North Queensland MP Bob Katter protesting the closure of Holden in Canberra, the Society of Automotive Engineers – Australasia (SAE-A) has released details of a new Australian designed and developed concept car, which it claims could help revive the local car industry. 

Mr Katter staged a protest outside parliament dressed as the Grim Reaper on 18 June, calling on the Federal Government to support his motion for the re-establishment of an Australian car industry. 

“The Government is in control of which industries live and which industries die. If every government car was built in Australia, Holden would be in a very different position today,” he said via Twitter.

The SAE-A, meanwhile, has also weighed into the fray, declaring Australian automotive engineers and designers have the expertise to lead the world in specialist vehicle design, as evidenced by a new concept car it is proposing. 

SAE-A chairman and CEO Adrian Feeney said Australia had retained much of its skills base despite the end of volume car manufacturing in October 2017.

"We basically have the automotive spectrum covered, from styling and engineering through to testing and development, and ultimately manufacturing and assembly," Mr Feeney said.

"All we need is the will to succeed and the investment to back it and we can design, engineer and manufacture world-class specialist vehicles for world markets.

"We are already doing it, with companies like Thales, which is currently building 1,100 Hawkei light armoured vehicles in Bendigo for the Australian Defence Force.

"There is also substantial engineering and manufacturing expertise in companies such as HSV, which is remanufacturing several thousand cars and pickups every year to the highest engineering standards."

AEV car

The SAE-A proposes to set up a group of automotive specialists to develop the unique new Australian car concept.

Mr Feeney said the concept group embodied leading practitioners of all the key capabilities needed to design and build a range of specialist vehicles.

"Our car could blend an electric platform with a range of specialised composite bodies, starting with a police car, an ambulance and other emergency services vehicles.

"This concept is perfectly suited to small and medium volume production, using production capabilities which already exist in Australia."

Mr Feeney said Australian companies could apply world-class local technology to produce electric drivetrains and high-tech composite bodies, plus all the specialist systems required.

He said there were already many companies achieving important milestones in the areas of drivetrain and systems technologies which the project would need.

"Take electric drivetrains – we already have SEA Electric producing real-world electric trucks and vans, while AEV Robotics has developed a unique digital vehicle platform (above)," he said.

"Australian engineers are working on the latest systems for global vehicles, and several companies are working with world-class composite technology."

Mr Feeney said a reborn Australian car industry could more than repay its investment, with the key to its financial success being to embrace the most suitable technologies for a low-volume, highly specialised car design

"What we propose is not a 20th century mass production concept, but rather a 21st century high-tech manufacturing exercise that plays to our Australian strengths,” he said.


"The car factories we once had were billion-dollar plants with a hugely expensive foundry and engine shop, body presses and weld lines just to produce the basic body and driveline.

"By contrast, our police car proposal would use the same type of efficient low-volume body production already used to perfection by Paccar to build Kenworth trucks in Melbourne.

"The driveline would be electric, with proven savings in materials and manufacturing costs, backed by Australia's wealth of lithium and emergent battery industry.”

The focus on police and emergency vehicles is a key element of the SAE-A proposal.

Mr Feeney said the market for these vehicles would reward high-level expertise that could produce exactly what the various police forces required.

"Australian police forces buy up to 5000 cars each year, each with tens of thousands of dollars in special equipment added," he said.

"Our approach would put the money and effort into producing a modest volume of highly specialised vehicles, while avoiding the massive capital costs of a big-volume factory.

"We've seen this sort of thing before, with specialist manufacturers building postal and ambulance vehicles, not to mention our thriving coach and truck manufacturing industries.

"By targeting a market with very specific needs, we can own that market long-term, and by dramatically reducing the capital cost, we completely re-write the financial equation."

Mr Feeney said SAE-A looked forward to generating interest from government and the private sector, with a view to a feasibility study to take the concept to the next level.