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The painfully delayed diesel engine variant of the Ford Territory is partially funded by a $42 million green subsidy. It runs far leaner and cleaner than the petrol model and it's crucial to the survival of the only Australian-made SUV.
This was therefore the perfect moment for Tony Abbott to propose cutting $500 million over four years from a program of automotive research and development. Any advance on that? Julia? Tony?
The car industry was disgusted that Labor reneged on an agreement to which it had obliged Holden, Ford and Toyota to commit in writing and did so without so much as an preemptive email to the effect of: “Queensland's up that certain creek, boys, so all bets are off.''
After all, the three local producers have done alright under the green fund.
In addition to the diesel Territory, Ford will this year roll out a four-cylinder turbo engine and an advanced LPG system for its sales-crippled Falcon, a $230 million investment. Holden is about to produce the Cruze medium car in Adelaide and Toyota has the means to make hybrids in Melbourne.
But Abbott's notion of gutting the Automotive Transformation Scheme is “absolutely catastrophic'', as the peak industry body possibly understated it. This is precisely not the moment to be playing fast and loose with our biggest manufacturing industry.
Yes, previously the Australian car industry has been about as worthy of public subsidy as a travelling workshop on interpretative dance. Once it was complacent and smug behind tariff ramparts more than 57 per cent tall. Joke from the recent past: “What do you call a lot full of Holdens and Fords? Answer: A Jurassic car park.''
The malaise lingered long into the last decade. Ford's poor decision making is entirely to blame for its diesel delay. Instead they went for turbo petrol which it’s since dropped.
Yet while the local car making operations remain mere colonial outposts of vast auto empires, there are not a few governments of emerging industrial nations that would give a great deal more than ours to assist an industry that in a good year is worth $5 billion in export earnings, supports 60,000 jobs and is responsible for some $700 million dollars in research and development.
Many first world nations do so. An example - Volkswagen is intent upon knocking Toyota off its perch of world's leading auto maker by decade's end. VW is the grateful recipient of state and federal funding, one of Germany's biggest employers and producer of the world's most sophisticated and greenest affordable car technology.
As Abbott strives to outbid Gillard in being seen as the most compassionate in response to the staggering blows sustained by Queensland, the car industry makes a tempting target.
Implying, as some are, that its funding is welfare for fat cats is emotive and dishonest. Acting as though this funding is dispensable at the time the industry has earned the right to government assistance is flagrantly counter productive.
Be an arch rationalist and insist that we shouldn't support the car making - but acknowledge that if we lose this manufacturing capability, we won't get it back. Some of us prefer to think of this country as capable of being something more than a quarry for China.