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Truly Australian car brands – as in brands that mass manufactured cars locally, regardless of the origin of their overseas parent companies, became a thing of the past in 2017.
After years of being on life-support via government 'co-investment' (aka subsidies) the local arms of Ford, Holden and Toyota closed their Australian manufacturing operations within short intervals of one another.
It marked the end of almost 70 years of mass car manufacturing on our continent, which started in 1948, but it also came at a time where Australia’s taste in vehicles had significantly shifted toward SUVs and dual-cab utes.
While the popularity of SUVs can be put down to global trends, a generational shift and the availability of affordable models from import markets, the dual-cab ute scores points for Australian consumers thanks to their true multi-purpose ability for on- and off-road, for work and for families. Both appeal to the kinds of Australians who once would have bought locally made sedans, wagons and utes.
Those three big names became the longest-running and most well-known of the Australian manufacturers, but there were other notable automakers with local manufacturing operations. They included British Leyland (best known for the P76 sedan), Chrysler (most known for the Valiant sedan), Mitsubishi (most known for its Sigma and Magna range), and Nissan which locally assembled Pulsars and Skylines (R31).
More minor, but notable Australian manufacturers included Hillman, Lightburn and Goggomobile.
At the time of Ford’s final plant closure in Broadmeadows, it manufactured the final-generation FGX Falcon sedan, ute, and SZ II Territory SUV. Ford Australia manufactured over six-million vehicles in Australia.
The end of the local Ford operation also signalled the end of its locally designed and built 'Barra' straight-six engine, which has gone on to become something of a legend among fans and tuners alike.
When Holden rolled the final Commodore off its Elizabeth plant’s production line on the 20th of October 2017, it had produced a total of 7,687,675 cars. At the time it produced the VFII Commodore/Calais sedan and wagon, as well as the ute. Local production of the Australian-designed JH Cruze sedan and hatch ceased a year earlier.
Holden built a series of four- and six-cylinder engines in Australia, and had exported V6 engines to the world from its Port Melbourne engine plant.
Toyota closed its Altona plant in October 2017 – the most significant closure in Toyota history – after building over 3.4 million cars in Australia.
The big three facility closures marked the permanent end of automotive mass-manufacturing in Australia.
The failures of local manufacturing can be put down to many things - high labour costs, unsustainable government subsidies - it also came at a time when a significant number of Australian consumers had already shifted from purchasing sedans to the burgeoning SUV market - something for which the local operations had not planned or equipped for.
According to VFacts figures for April 2019, SUVs have grown to 44.2 per cent of Australia’s car market. At the same time, the commercial segment has grown to 21.1 per cent thanks to the surge in popularity for dual-cab utes.
To illustrate the fundamental change in Australia’s car landscape, the top three SUV’s this year are the Mazda CX-5 which has sold 8329 units so far, Toyota RAV4 at 7017 units and the Nissan X-Trail at 8329 units.
In comparison, the most popular sedan, the now-Japanese-sourced Toyota Camry has sold 4665 units thus far, with clear space between it and the next-most popular sedan, the Opel Insignia-based Holden Commodore which has sold just 3185 units this year.
At the peak of Commodore production in 2005, there were almost that many cars being pumped out every week. The same year, sedans hatchbacks and wagons made up 60.5 per cent of the car market, whereas SUVs made up just 19 per cent.
The title of most-popular car in Australia is now fought over by the Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux, both are made in Thailand and have sold 11,804 units and 12,020 of just 4x4 versions respectively so far this year.
|Rank||Full-year 2018||Full-year 1998|
|1||Toyota HiLux||Holden Commodore*|
|2||Ford Ranger||Ford Falcon*|
|3||Toyota Corolla||Toyota Camry*|
|5||Hyundai i30||Toyota Corolla|
|6||Mazda CX-5||Mitsubishi Magna*|
|7||Mitsubishi Triton||Nissan Pulsar|
|8||Toyota RAV4||Toyota HiLux|
|9||Nissan X-Trail||Holden Rodeo|
|10||Hyundai Tucson||Toyota LandCruiser|
* - Australian built