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The next big think

Artwork: Tom Jellett

Within three years, production-line workers will build cars with names they can't pronounce.

It's nothing new but when the Russians start pumping out Mitsubishis and Peugeots and Citroens, it is another step in the process that sees car makers move out of their backyard and onto foreign soil.

The reasons are cheap.

Picking a developing country with available employment, low yet aspiring standards of living and government incentives such as free land and tax breaks is the financial equivalent of a Stephanie Rice wall poster.

And there's no reason to feel shy about deserting the homeland in search of reduced manufacturing costs even if Porsche boss Wendelin Wiedeking is scathing of the practice — though the Cayenne body is made in Slovakia — and says so in his new (only) book “Don't Follow The Crowd”.

Look around.

You probably know it because you're on the site, but most car owners haven't a clue where their metallic ego in the driveway was born.

The Honda Accord and Jazz are from Thailand, the Volkswagen Caddy in Poland, the Suzuki APU (named after the 24-hour shop owner in The Simpsons?) van in Indonesia, the Chrysler Grand Cherokee in Austria — on the same line as the BMW X3, no less — the Volvo XC70 in Belgium and the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus hatch and BMW 3-Series four-cylinder models in South Africa.

As these countries grow richer on their ability to make cars cheaper for the world, so their prices — of labour and taxes and energy — will rise.

Are there any countries left that have even lower costs that car makers can exploit? While you sift through the Atlas (get a current one, some countries and borders have changed in the past decade) let me tell you about one that has it all.

And only recently is word out that this could be the next big think in car manufacture.

Unlike Russia or Thailand or Slovakia, this country has English as its predominant language.

It has an able workforce and rising unemployment.

Its needs are many because the country has high consumer goods consumption.

Yet the workforce — perhaps through desperation — can be turned to receive a modest wage.

There are tax breaks and land going on offer throughout the country, most close to the ocean or rivers for easy transportation of raw materials and finished product.

The icing on the cake is that it has existing infrastructure to support car assembly.

The country is the USA.

Now the focus turns from outward looking to the manufacturing equivalent of navel gazing.

Now European countries have seen a weakened USA become ripe for domestic manufacture.

The US dollar is so weak that it makes importing European cars too expensive.

Far better to look at camping on US soil, in the way a cuckoo camps in another nest to exploit its personal needs.

While General Motors seeks manufacturing in China, Volkswagen is looking at the USA.

Volkswagen is not alone, European suppliers are also sniffing out what the USA can offer.

The tide has unexpectedly changed and perhaps the only hindrance will be a revival in the US economy.

Preoccupied with the 'war with no end' in the Middle East, the US is poised to become the world's next big car factory.

Who would have thought that possible?

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