The senior Liberal politician blamed the difficulties of struggling Australian carmakers on a misreading of the market, saying Australians "don't want to buy Australian cars". And Hockey's comments indicated he thought buyers were looking more favourably at the 60 foreign makes on sale in Australia.
The shadow treasurer's blunt assessment of the local industry's woes came as Ford began forced retrenchments at its Geelong and Broadmeadows plants, blaming low sales. Hockey today was asked on the Seven network for the Coalition's view of subsidies for car makers.
"People are not buying Australian cars, Australian-made cars, because they don't want to buy Australian-made cars," he said. "And the cars are not meeting their demands as consumers." The comments are a sign that a Coalition government would question the Gillard government's $5.4 billion support package to be paid to the automotive industry through to 2020.
Hockey said Australia should have a vehicle industry but that "protection is not the answer". "The bottom line is we need an efficient car. We need cars that consumers want and then the motor vehicle industry will survive," he said. About 212 positions will be lost at the Ford factories with workers being told the jobs some have held for close to 30 years are over.
Ford has said it has been unable to rely on the domestic market while the high Australian dollar was making exports less competitive. Environment Minister Tony Burke joined criticism of the local industry by saying it had been slow to offer fuel-efficient vehicles.
"The challenge for Australian-made vehicles across the board has been that we were behind the curve in moving to more fuel-efficient cars,'' Mr Burke said. "A whole lot of the Government investment that we have been putting into the car industry is about making sure we can have Australian-made hybrids - about making sure we can have Australian-made, more efficient cars.''
And it seems a growing number of consumers agree with Hockey. "If any of the locals built a small, rear-wheel-drive car that had some get up and go, I'd be all over it,'' Terry of Adelaide wrote on news.com.au. Another reader, named ‘Aussie’ said: "He's right. Most Aussie cars are too big and too ugly. They can't expect the Government to keep throwing money at the industry when it's just not working. Something has to change.''
Another commenter said Hockey was "absolutely correct". "My family were in the market for a new car and after considering all the mid/small range Australian cars for quality and price, we brought a Kia Cerato because of value for money, excellent five-year warranty, quite well built and the 'free' extras that came with it," he wrote. "All the Aussie cars couldn't or wouldn't match. Protection isn't the answer. Hard reality is continued bail outs with our money over the years is just stalling the inevitable.''