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The return of Australian car manufacturing? New reports call for old Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon factories to become new electric car hubs

A new report says Australia is well placed to once again becoming a manufacturing force, by building EVs.

Australia is in a perfect position to reignite vehicle manufacturing and create a high-tech electric vehicle manufacturing hub.

That’s according to a new research report titled Rebuilding Vehicle Manufacturing in Australia, released this week by the Australia Institute’s Carmichael Centre

The report, authored by Dr Mark Dean, says Australia has many of the key elements for a successful EV industry, including rich mineral reserves, a highly skilled workforce, an advanced industrial base and consumer interest.

But, the report concludes, Australia lacks “an overarching, coordinating and strategic national industry policy”.

Australia had a vehicle mass manufacturing industry until Ford, Toyota and GM Holden closed their local production facilities in 2016 and 2017.

The report suggests that with some of those facilities still intact following their closure, like the former Holden plant in Elizabeth, South Australia, it presents an opportunity to re-invest invest in EV manufacturing in those areas.

It highlights that around 35,000 people are still employed in vehicle and automotive parts manufacturing in Australia, which is still an important sector generating innovation and exports.

“A future EV manufacturing industry could build on the enormous potential that remains in automotive supply chains that still employ thousands of Australian workers and contribute high-quality manufactured goods to both global markets and domestic assembly operations (including domestic EV bus, truck, and other heavy vehicle manufacturers),” the report said.

The report calls for EV elements such as lithium-ion batteries to be manufactured in Australia, rather than simply exporting the raw materials overseas where other countries build the components.

It's unlikely Toyota's former production site in Altona would become a new EV manufacturing hub. It's unlikely Toyota's former production site in Altona would become a new EV manufacturing hub.

Australia’s raw material production of crushed raw lithium (spodumene) netted $1.1bn in 2017, but the report suggests that could be as high as $22.1bn if we produced components here.

The report cautions that a strong EV manufacturing policy would not necessarily be a cure-all for climate change, but could well be a “major driver of industrial transformation alongside other positive cultural and environmental changes within Australian society”.

It also recommends powering the new manufacturing industry with renewable energy.

It’s unlikely that Toyota’s Altona, Victoria site would be in line to be used as an EV manufacturing hub as the Japanese carmaker has transformed it to a testing and light manufacturing facility for its own vehicles and a hydrogen hub.

Ford’s former Geelong and Broadmeadows sites are slowly being decommissioned, and will soon to become a technology park and light industrial site. The same developers that bought the Ford sites, Pelligra Group, also own Holden’s Elizabeth site.

The former Fishermans Bend Holden site is being transformed into an “Innovation Precinct” by the Victorian Government, with the University of Melbourne’s new engineering and design campus already confirmed.