The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the black hole left with the demise of good old Aussie manufacturing.

The Society of Automotive Engineers – Australasia (SAE-A) says rebuilding Australia’s car industry would save lives in an emergency such as the current crisis.

As the Asia Pacific professional body for automotive and mobility engineers, it represents more than 2000 auto engineering professionals employed in Australia.

Adrian Feeney

SAE-A Chairman and CEO Adrian Feeney said the pandemic had shown how valuable a car industry can be.

“Car manufacturers around the world are making masks, ventilators and other equipment, not just in America and Europe, but in countries like India and Mexico,” Feeney said.

“Not so in Australia, where we see Ford Australia developing a surgical face shield, but having to do it in a Parts Distribution Centre — not a car factory.

“It could all be so different if the government invested in reviving our car industry, starting with engineers, and ultimately full-scale specialist manufacturing.”

Mr Feeney said Australia still had vital automotive assets which could easily be preserved if the government moved as decisively as it had to protect other industries from the pandemic.

“We have that capacity right now – engineers, proving grounds, factories and other facilities – that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild if lost,” he said.

“It’s a big opportunity, with new players and technologies emerging all the time.

“Let’s not forget that Tesla got into full production by taking over a former GM-Toyota factory in California – well, we have former Toyota and GM plants too, and Ford for good measure.

“Tomorrow’s car could be almost anything – autonomous, electric, all sorts of things – and Australian engineers are renowned for the flexible thinking these new technologies require.”

Mr Feeney said the right initiative by Australia’s governments over the next two years could attract corporate investment in a resurgent, world-class local car industry.

“Let us not sit back and let countries like Mexico and India put us in the shade – let’s be the smart country again and develop a new and exciting car and build it for the world,” he said.

“Which Australian Prime Minister wants to be known as the Ben Chifley of the 21st century?

“And then, next time we face a challenge that calls for world-class engineering and manufacturing capabilities, whether a virus or anything else, we will be ready and able to meet that challenge.”


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Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.
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