Loss of car industry felt again

Australian manufacturers could have offered vital help during time of crisis.

Take a look at most developed countries and you will find all manner of industries have turned to producing the medical equipment that’s so badly needed right now. 

It’s certainly the case that many Australian manufacturing operations have redirected their efforts to making much-needed supplies to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Even industries as diverse as boutique distilleries and some of the high-profile race-car teams are getting in on the act.

In the US, both Ford and General Motors have very quickly designed and started manufacturing desperately needed hospital ventilators and other equipment, and other car manufacturers in all parts of the world are following suit. 

That’s the beauty of the motor industry.  It employs skilled people from many disciplines and it’s very adept at quickly and cost effectively making lots of hugely complex pieces of equipment.  

There’s an old saying that those who ignore history are destined to repeat it and I have to wonder if that’s the case here.    

In the early days Australia had no car industry to speak of.  We assembled cars and trucks from parts that were made in other countries. 

We made some parts of course, but it would be a stretch to suggest that we could build whole cars in any volume.

Then came World War II and the supply from other countries dried up and demand skyrocketed.

We were on our own and had to apply a great deal of homespun ingenuity to make the things that we could no longer readily get from overseas. 

And the things we needed weren’t only for cars and trucks.

Ford Australia and Holden, among others, turned their collective hands to producing anything that was in demand for the war effort, or in fact stuff that was just in demand.  

That was the start of our homegrown motor industry and it really kicked off in the post-war years.  

But here we are 80-odd years down the track and we again don’t have our own motor industry or many of the component suppliers that supported it. And we’ve lost much of the capacity to be able to make things that we may no longer be able to easily source from overseas manufacturers.    

While I’m the first to acknowledge that the Australian motor industry lost sight of the what the Australian consumer wanted and in effect bought its demise on itself, the fact is that we’ve lost a valuable asset that could turn its hand to making things other than cars when the need arose.