PH Footnote: Aussie car industry demise

For at least five years, it's been as plain as that gargantuan grille on the latest Roller that the Australian motor manufacturing industry - which officially dies this month in favour of a string of importerships - was a goner.

The combination of globalisation, fragmentation of models, the improving durability of cars and a smallish market by world standards means the idea of separate Aussie factories making models specially adapted "for Australian conditions" is no longer sustainable. Chuck in the coming electrification era and you have an even greater reason for globalisation.

Besides, Aussie buyers themselves have shown they want the variety and modernity the rest of the world is routinely offered, and manufacturers' only way of meeting that is to send bulk sea carrier-loads of new models Down Under.

The death is still a shock, though. I was born around the time Australia's mass production industry officially began with "Australia's Own" Holden in 1948. The fact that this was a GM product with strong links to America wasn't perceived. What my Dad knew was that the car was made in Australia and every serviceman (rarely woman) recently returned from the war wanted - even deserved - to have one on the drive

For 30 years, Holden reigned, joined in 1960 by the Ford Falcon, a more blatantly American car yet also regarded as Australian because its US equivalent wasn't familiar: we didn't travel much in those days. All we knew was that the (rare) European cars we saw, and especially those Pommy Austins, Morrises, Rovers, Hillmans and Humbers "fell to bits" on tough Aussie roads, which featured hundreds of miles of washboard surfaces the foreigners were never engineered to tackle. We loved that - foreign cars falling to bits while the rest of us just drove on.

There was a glorious moment, just as I was leaving Oz to seek my fortune in Europe, when Opel Commodores under test to become Holdens suffered cataclysmic structural failures barely halfway through a traditional 10,000 mile torture-test on Holden's legendary "rough track", which all new Holdens were effortlessly supposed to survive. It was life-affirming.

But we should have known: this, as far back as 1980, was the beginning of the end. The Holden Commodore (though we couldn't admit it) was a strengthened European - and a better car for its roots.

When the European taste for such big cars finally died, the Aussie versions - even the specialist high performance V8 still spoken of in hushed tones - had to go. Like all Australian cars they lived a good long life, though, and will be fondly remembered.

Steve Cropley

[Commodore photo: LAT photo]

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (30) Join the discussion on the forum

  • warch 17 Oct 2017

    Aussies do love their own mythology about how they're the toughest people in the world and how their cars are built to suit. Of course the reality these days is that most Australians live in the suburbs, rarely have to drive on poorly surfaced roads and would never contemplate driving anywhere truly remote.

    That said, Australian Holdens and Fords of the muscle car era were glorious iconic cars. My father in law has photos of some the company cars he had when he worked for Holden in 70s, really really cool looking cars.

  • big_rob_sydney 17 Oct 2017

    Steve, that first Commodore was a thinly reworked Opel Rekord. Check out the google pics.

    I hate to say it, but for me, the old Ford versus Holden thing was a stupid tribal thing the manufacturers used to try and drum up sales of a stty product. Mores the pity that a bunch of knuckle dragging idiots actually fell for it. And I include myself amongst that number as, when I was younger, I fell for the so-called charms of v8 goodness. A shame it was surrounded by a car that literally shook itself to death. My VK SS commodore broke almost every second time I took it out, and my local mechanic literally cried when I sold it to someone from out of town.

    If the cars were any good, they'd be selling in sufficient numbers to warrant their continued existence.

    They aren't. So they don't. Good riddance to these buckets of crap.

    And another thing not mentioned in the article. ADR's... What a load of st these are. (Australian Design Rules). Where do the muppets in government get the big idea that, a car which is designed for safe use in, say, Japan, needs a different set of rules for them to be okay for use in Australia???

    This is just another way for manufacturers to block parallel imports, and protect their margins, while jacking up the price of cars. Because...Australian model...

    Seriously, we call it the Australia Tax for a reason, essentially being rip-off prices. I hope now that all manufacturing is gone, the pricing structure and controls around the cars (now, ALL imported), will reflect overseas pricing and availability.

    Not to mention, the rules were such that it precluded manufacturers from bringing in niche versions of a car; too expensive to get past the gate-keepers of public safety (notwithstanding these cars were judged as safe as their siblings in their domestic market...).

    Hopefully now we will get the full complement of cars without the jobsworth attitudes of the gatekeepers.

  • Plate spinner 17 Oct 2017

    In the mid-90s I circumnavigated most of Oz in a 1977 Ford Falcon XC, with the baby 4.1 straight-six motor.
    Wonderful times.

    PVJ 145, are you still out there?

  • sumpoil 17 Oct 2017

    Yes indeed, the world is becoming a homogeneous place - cars, clothing, music, furniture, food ..... we all have to like the same thing now, it seems. How sad. How dull.

  • ZX10R NIN 17 Oct 2017

    The XR6 Turbo is on my list of cars to own, it's a shame but as models are now global having a niche model for one country was never going to last also the demise of the saloon in the USA which in turn lead to slow sales of the Chevrolet SS meant the demise of the Commodore was always going to happen.

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