So, I was reading in Wheels magazine today that Ford Australia received $100 million in funding from the government so that they could keep open their manufacturing operations here.
To put that figure into perspective, the government has committed $75 million towards the recently announced “world’s largest” solar energy plant [Replaced broken link 14 Mar 2017].
Obviously the intent is to maintain a manufacturing presence in Australia which will support Ford’s workers, but also the component manufacturers that supply Ford. I’m not a fan of subsidies for uncompetitive industries, but on balance it sounds reasonable. (I’d love to know how many people would be affected by Ford closing local manufacturing – could that $100 million be better spent re-skilling the workforce? But I digress…)
Of course, that mag went to press before the layoffs announced the other day. These layoffs are blamed on rising oil prices, and a drop in “big car” sales.
This is not a new trend. Car manufacturers that are relying on “big car” sales, like Holden (Commodore) and Ford (Falcon) have been seeing declining sales of their bigger models for years, with a particularly steep drop in the past year. The biggest selling cars for some time have consistently been smaller cars. And the dominant player at the moment is Toyota.
You’d think they’d cotton on to the fact that maybe they should be looking to develop smaller cars. Or more efficient engines. Or something! Not just keep building the same old cars that aren’t selling. Certainly it doesn’t seem to be a winning strategy.
But I nearly fell of my chair when I continued reading the article to see that the funding was specifically for development of large cars (specifically V8s if memory serves) and related technology – with a view to export markets. So not only is the government propping up an uncompetitive industry, but it is throwing money at a strategy that is clearly a dud.
In the same edition of Wheels, they interview last year’s Wheels Young Designer of the Year who is close to finishing an internship at Ford (the internship is a prize for winning the award). He is environmentally conscious, and clearly wants to work on cars that are more efficient and environmentally friendly. But Ford aren’t doing a whole lot in that area, are they?
Now to me, connecting the dots is pretty easy. (Am I being too simplistic?) Yet high-paid executives at Ford seem unwilling to see the writing on the wall and change course. Instead of looking for government handouts to prop up their unsustainable “big car” strategy, they should be looking to utilise Australia’s strong design talent to deliver innovation – cleaner, more efficient cars might be a good place to start.
And perhaps our government could think more strategically about spending our tax dollars on a dying business and instead focus it on research and development of cleaner and more efficient technologies. Focus on the development of “green tech” – one of the biggest growing industries worldwide – with a view to position Australia as a leader in the field.
What would it take to switch from subsidising “business as usual” practices to spurring innovation? I do hope we find out soon, coz I fear for the continued economic success of our country if we don’t start changing course soon…
Update 2006-11-10: Just a pointer to the comments section – John has some really interesting points in his post there…