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Exclusive: future Holdens less Australian than a Camry

Future Holden Commodores will contain less locally-made parts, a secret report has revealed.

Holden says it’s as True Blue as football, meat pies and kangaroos -- but a secret document has revealed the cars it plans to build with more than $275 million taxpayer dollars will be less Australian than a Toyota Camry.

The local content of the latest Holden Commodore has already dropped to 50 per cent, while less than one-third of the Cruze small car is made from Australian-sourced components, even though Holden has received $1.8 billion in government assistance over the past 12 years.

By comparison, the local content of the Toyota Camry and Ford Falcon sedans are 70 per cent, according to figures supplied by the car-makers.

Holden’s confidential plan to increase the foreign parts in its cars will likely come as a kick in the guts to local automotive parts suppliers who today (Monday December 2) will hold a rally at Adelaide’s Stamford Hotel before lodging their submission to the Productivity Commission.

“The Productivity Commission must understand that this isn’t just about economics, it’s about families and communities,” said John Camillo, the SA secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

The Federal Coalition Government has postponed any new taxpayer assistance deals with car makers and automotive component suppliers until after the Productivity Commission delivers an interim report on the industry by December 20 and a final report on March 31.

Critically, this is after a global General Motors deadline to allocate investment in future models and it is feared the fate of Holden's factory may already be decided.

Holden yesterday declined to comment on its future model plans. But the SA Government “Cabinet In Confidence” document -- partly funded by and compiled with co-operation from Holden -- says there will be a “significant reduction” in locally-made components for the two cars General Motors plans to build in the future.

“The Next Gen plan sees two vehicle ranges with the majority of components for each being imported,” says the report prepared by University of Adelaide Professor Goran Roos. "Accordingly the Next Gen plan would see a significant reduction in the Australian-based suppliers to GM Holden.”

The report contradicts Holden’s public claim that if its factory and the jobs of its 1760 production line workers are saved, Australian component manufacturers will also benefit.

Holden boss Mike Devereux says the “ripple effect” of a shutdown would be felt across the parts supply industry -- and up to 7000 jobs in South Australia and up to 18,000 in Victoria would be lost.

But, in fact, if General Motors receives the funding boost it needs to continue production in Australia, some local parts suppliers are likely to lose their contracts with Holden and may themselves face a shutdown.

Critically, even if local parts suppliers can match or undercut the price of foreign rivals, they are unlikely to be awarded the business because of General Motors’ global parts supply contracts.

“Even if an Australian-based supplier could offer a cheaper alternative for (Holden) locally it would not be adopted as it could interfere with the broader global GM supplier relations,” the report says.

Holden’s decision to increase the foreign content of its “Next Generation” cars now risks bringing Toyota and the rest of the Australian automotive manufacturing industry down with it.

If Holden weakens the parts supply base, the remaining component manufacturers may not have the economies of scale to help Toyota find the $400 million in annual savings it needs to survive.

Toyota Australia says it must slash $3800 -- or about 15 per cent of the production cost -- from each car it builds if it is to retain the Middle East export deal that is critical to keeping its Altona factory running.

Only 35,000 Camry and Aurion V6 sedans are sold locally each year; about 70,000 Camrys are exported. Toyota Australia says it must build a minimum of 80,000 cars a year to remain viable.

In Tokyo last week, the executive vice president and member of the board of Toyota, Nobuyori Kodaira, said local parts suppliers were key to the survival of Toyota’s Australian operations.

“In Australia currently we are having a difficult situation,” said Mr Kodaira. “Because this is a business we need to have economic viability.

“In order to continue the manufacturing there, we are cooperating with our suppliers on activities such as rationalisation and also cost reduction. We definitely think those activities are necessary.”

A Toyota insider told News Corp Australia: “If Holden goes, we’ll be right behind them. It won’t be announced straight away … but we’ll be gone too.”

Toyota Australia executives are still fighting hard to save the Altona car assembly line and engine plant, by trying to find new ways to cut production costs.

In Tokyo last week a Toyota Australia executive said a decision about Altona would come from Japan by mid-2014. But representatives for the company have since told News Corp Australia a deadline has not been set, and it may be in the second half of 2014.

In the meantime about 2000 of Toyota’s 2500 factory workers at Altona have been asked to vote on an amendment to their workplace agreement that cuts bonuses but improves shift flexibility.

Unlike Holden workers -- who in September voted for a three-year wage freeze if production is secured from 2016 to 2022 -- Toyota factory workers will get to keep two longstanding pay rises due next year: a 3.25 per cent increase in April and 2 per cent in September.

The Toyota workers must cast their vote by Friday the 13th of December. If Toyota were to close its Altona facility, it would likely happen in 2018, at the end of the next Camry model cycle.

In August this year, Toyota Australia announced it had received $30 million in government funding to go towards an update for the Camry to be built at Altona from 2015 to 2018. There is no suggestion this deal is under threat.

As reported by Carsguide last month the SA Government briefing paper forecast the possibility of a Holden shutdown in 2016, the same year as Ford. The secret document also said Holden’s factory shutdown could be delayed until 2018 -- even if it did not proceed with the two new “Next Generation” models -- by extending production of the current Commodore and Cruze.

"Our key working assumption is that manufacturing/assembly of mass-market vehicle platforms at GMH is not sustainable,” the report said.

“It is therefore likely that vehicle assembly will eventually cease: 2016 being the earliest likely date.”

The report also found Holden exaggerated its sales forecasts for the two new cars, which means State and Federal Governments would again be threatened with a shutdown at a later date.

“The sales assumptions of the Next Gen case err towards the optimistic,” the report says. “(Holden assumes) all unit sales of the current Commodore sedans migrate to the new proposed front-wheel-drive large vehicle, and that all current unit sales of the Commodore wagon migrate to the Next Gen small vehicle wagon.

“The case assumes an overall increase in sales of small vehicles … in the most cost competitive segment of the market. We believe that these assumptions have greater downside risk than upside risk,” the report found.

Carsguide understands that under the “Next Generation” plan Holden expects to build just 65,000 cars per year at Elizabeth, down from approximately 84,000 this year and a peak of 165,000 in 2004.

Holden has received more than $1.8 billion in taxpayer support over the past 12 years, and in March 2012 had signed a deal with the former Federal Labor Government for a further $275 million to build two new models.

But since Ford announced in May this year that it will shut its Australian factories in 2016, Holden has asked for a funding increase because it says economic conditions have “changed dramatically”.

This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling

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