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Electric cars could be ‘new beginning’ for Australia’s automotive industry

Dave Depares’s 29-year career at Holden ends this week when the company’s Adelaide manufacturing plant — the last in Australia — closes for good. He is still trying to line up new work, but some of his colleagues are taking their skills from the old world to the new.

They have been poached by electric car maker Tesla amid a global automotive shake-up.

“Knowing we [Holden] were winding down, Tesla was smart enough to seize that opportunity and come headhunting a few of our skilled people,” Mr Depares said.

“So a few of my colleagues have actually gone to the US and are working for Tesla now,” he said.

Electric cars have gone from futuristic fantasy to an industry-wide inevitability.

The shift is being powered by China, the UK and France, which want to cut pollution and have indicated they intend to ban or limit sales of new cars with internal combustion engines by mid-century.

General Motors, Holden’s parent company, has decided to head the same way.

“GM’s obviously looking at what customers are going to want into the future and have put a pretty bold declaration out there that we’re going to move to a full electric platform,” said Anthony Riemann, GM’s director of strategy and mobility.

Behyad Jafari, from the Electric Vehicle Council, said the plug-in revolution presented a new opportunity for Australia’s car industry, particularly car parts makers.

“This doesn’t have to be the end of automotive manufacturing for Australia. It can be a new beginning,” he said.

“We have the people with the skills, experience and know-how and we also have the mineral resources required to create the batteries that go inside electric vehicles.”

‘Mass-scale production of cars in Australia hasn’t worked’

The head of Victoria’s Automobile Chamber of Commerce, Geoff Gwilym, has gone one step further.

“I think we should be designing new vehicle plants that build electric vehicles, whether they’re knock-down kits that are put together in Australia, or completely fabricated in Australia,” he said.

Mr Gwilym believes the economics of electric car production could stack up because plug-in cars have fewer moving parts and modern car plants need fewer workers.

“The view held in some circles is that it’s just cheaper to build cars offshore, and that includes building electric vehicles as well. I don’t hold that view,” he said.

“If we build new plants with new technology with new design techniques, we can build cars competitively.”

Mr Riemann believed Australian companies would play a role in the electric vehicle sector, but doubted a car making rebirth.

“It’s hard to crystal ball at the moment. I think large, mass-scale production of cars unfortunately hasn’t worked in Australia,” he said.

‘We need some support from the Federal Government’

But for a plug-in industry to charge ahead, buying habits must change.

More than one million new cars were sold in Australia last year, but fewer than 2,000 of them were electric or plug-in hybrid.

Electric car sales have taken off overseas largely because of government support.

Mr Jafari said in Norway about 30 per cent of new cars sold were plug-ins.

“Norway has a number of subsidies as well as exemptions to things like the value added tax, import taxes for vehicles, electric vehicles coming into their country, that amounts to anywhere between $7,500 to $10,000 for the purchase of an electric vehicle,” he said.

The Federal Government declined an interview.

It offers a small discount on finance for electric vehicles, but Mr Jafari said that was not enough.

“Potentially no country has more to gain out of the transition to electric vehicles than Australia, but we do need some support from the Federal Government to get the market started,” he said.

Article Source: ABC

Image Source: ABC


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