Cars are annoying reality of our society. They are really just there to provide private, easily accessible transport to wherever we need to go. This is especially useful if you have children – you can have easy access to things they need and want during a long journey. To me, that is all cars are. They shouldn’t be billboards for showing off that You have money and a family. They aren’t there to be raced off at a set of traffic lights. They are, however, a giant money pit for many of us. This is especially the case when governments – especially the past Labor Government in NSW, have seen car registration as a great way to obtain more money. In terms of money pits, though, it seems that cars are a money pit for governments as well. Reading the article by Annabel Crabb in The Drum, we can see that the current government has been very generous in its support for a car industry that struggles to be economically viable.
A number of Australians have a misplaced sense of patriotism in terms of our car industry. They see Commodores and Falcons, especially, as national icons that must be championed at all costs. This has extended to the V8 Supercar series, which was, once upon a time, a showcase for more than just the Falcodores – which was greeted with derision from the patriots who wanted “their”cars. In the days when I owned a Mitsubishi Magna, I used to receive sneers from Falcodore owners who said it wasn’t Australian. Even though it was. Their own cars, however, aren’t overly Australian either. Ford is an American company and the Falcon isn’t significantly different from their overseas vehicles. The same goes for General Motors Holden. It was ironic that only kangaroos and VFL were the only entirely “Aussie” things in their famous commercial from the 1970s. (Note that rugby league wasn’t featured – it’s not Australian either.)
The misplaced patriotism runs to defending the quality of the Falcodores as well. I have regularly driven 2 different Commodore and 1 Falcon. I had a VK and a VS Commodore for the combined total of 7 years and a Falcon for 2 and a half years. The VK was the worst car we owned in our family. Sluggish, terrible handling and constantly needing to be fixed. When I drove my Magna (for nearly 10 years with few problems), I would mention the VK’s woes and receive the response “oh, well, that was a bad model”. I then bought a VS (mostly use to urging from my then wife) and found it wasn’t much better. Sluggish, thirsty, poor handling and rough. I replaced it with a BA Falcon because I knew I would be doing a lot of long distance driving and needed space. It was better than the Commodore to start with – even though it was very thirsty and was a pain to drive in the inner city. But then it started, at the 90,000 kilometre mark, to exhibit a range of puzzling and unpredictable flaws. Shaking while driving along a smooth freeway. Shutting down without warning. At least, I thought they were puzzling until I spoke to others who had extensive experience of the BA. Most of them had also exhibited the same problems – which were very difficult to find and fix. That’s why I took the step, like many others, to turn my back on the Falcodores and purchase a Mazda 3. Its performance is good on long drives, is comfortable for a tall man like me, has good luggage space and has saved me over $1000 in petrol since I purchased it in August, compared to the Falcon. I don’t say this to advertise a 3 – there are many good cars of that size in the market – mostly made overseas.
The reality is that we don’t really need to support our car industry here at all. The Commodore and Falcon, in terms of cars, don’t compete well against cars from other countries in terms of quality, value for money or fuel consumption. If they did, we wouldn’t need to supply them with so many subsidies. I haven’t mentioned Toyota, who make Camrys and Corollas here, but really could make them anywhere in the region. They make them here because our governments have rolled out endless supplies of cash to keep them here. You don’t have many people saying “we are so proud of our Aussie Camry”, so, really, the cars could be made cheaper and just as well anywhere else. The entire car industry should have used government subsidies to build cars that are better in quality, smaller and using newer technologies. There has been some attempts in this area, such as with the Ethanol powered Commodore – but it is still burning a lot of fuel in an oversized vehicle. Toyota have also started building a hybrid in Australia, but that only represents a portion of the government money that has been spent – and hybrids don’t really need government money, as they are being built in other nations without that support.
This is an issue that has already divided the Coalition, with Joe Hockey representing the classically liberal economic policy of reducing public support for private industry and Barnaby Joyce showing his DLP ways and wanting the populist policy of continuing the support. Tony Abbott has an interesting position in this debate, because he would be stuck between enacting his mantra to reduce government outlays and the desire to indulge populist policies such as this. A reason Abbott would be reluctant to listen to the liberals in his party and roll back car industry support is that his bogan earphones would hear the cries of men in the outer suburbs about the government “killing the Aussie V8” and “killing off the V8 Supercar Series”, followed by muttering about seeing Mondeos or even Mazda 3s zooming around Bathurst.
This will be an interesting issue to follow in the next few years, especially if we see an Abbott Liberal Government. It will take bravery for him to ditch the began earphones on this issue and cut government support for an industry that should have used the subsidies they have received to build better, smaller cars. In future, we may just be cut back to football, meat pies and kangaroos. Not necessarily a bad thing.