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Fledgling Aussie car-maker hires help

High hopes: Stamped panels such as these destined for Australian car-makers could be earmarked for Ethan Automotive beyond 2017 if the plan to launch a new Australian car factory gets off the ground.

Former Futuris executive to head would-be Australian car-maker Ethan Auto

11 May 2015

By RON HAMMERTON

A FORMER automotive component manufacturing executive has been appointed by fledgling Australian motor company Ethan Automotive as the man to mastermind its plunge into local car production just as the big players are pulling out.

Former Futuris Automotive manager Mr Matthew Newey will be the first chief operating officer of the start-up company – a spin-off of Melbourne-based property management firm Ethan Property Group – that hopes to build cars at a new factory on a greenfield site at Edinburgh Parks, on Adelaide’s northern fringe.

Although the company admits its schedule is “extremely tight”, it hopes to be up and running by 2018, eventually making three models – a sedan, SUV and coupe – built on a modular platform and clad with aluminium panels at a factory employing about 350.

Ethan Automotive hopes to fill the vacuum left by the demise of Australia’s three auto manufacturers in 2017, with an ambitious plan to work with existing parts suppliers to develop and build cars in a relatively small-volume plant, starting with about 5000 vehicles a year in 2018 and building to about 30,000 in 2023.

British-born Mr Newey held a number of senior roles with Futuris Automotive – a Tier 1 supplier best known for its car seats and interior fittings for Australia car-makers – between 2005 and 2013.

He was executive general manager of Futuris’s US subsidiary that worked in-house with Tesla to develop and produce components, including seats, for its electric sportscars.

His appointment with Ethan – starting June 1 – was announced by Ethan Automotive Group chairman Ashley Fenn who said the arrival of Mr Newey signalled the commencement of the company’s vehicle development program.

“This will provide enormous confidence to our Tier 1 suppliers and to governments that this project is now live,” he said.

Apart from his property management and business consulting interests, Mr Fenn is best known as a federal executive member of the Family First Party.

 center imageLeft: Ethan Automotive chief operating officer Matthew Newey.The company reportedly has been lobbying the federal government for special dispensation to access $600 million from the Automotive Transformation Scheme (ATS) to help establish its operation which supposedly will kick off with a petrol-powered, rear-wheel-drive, four-cylinder sedan.

The company reportedly looked at taking over Holden’s Elizabeth factory in South Australia, but decided to start from scratch with a purpose-built plant in which it claims it can be profitable at 10,000 vehicles a year, all sold direct to the public.

As part of the plan, Ethan has acquired a small racing car production business, West Motorsport Australia, in SA.

Mr Newey, who most recently has worked as supply chain development director of brewing giant SABMiller, said in a press release announcing his appointment that he regarded Ethan Automotive as a great opportunity to grow an Australian automotive company.

“With West Motorsports, we will look to tap into local supply capabilities to enhance quality and technological advancements whilst providing a diversification stream to incumbent OEM (original equipment manufacturer) suppliers,” he said.

“The big challenge, of course, is Ethan’s new passenger car program, an SUV, sedan and coupe from a common platform launched in 2018.

“The timing is extremely tight and will require full support from all stakeholders.”

Mr Newey said the Australian motor industry had the capacity, capability and passion to make this project a reality.

“The industry is too important to just shut up shop when the big three disappear,” he said.

“Australia has more to give the automotive world, and in 2018, I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to demonstrate that.

“Top priority from day one in the role will be to work with our supply partners, locking in contracts and agreeing design responsibilities.

“Ethan will only be successful if we can ensure the supply chain is robust, efficient and able to compete globally with expected auto standards.”

Mr Newey said the automotive industry in Australia was at a critical point, with the demise of the big three imminent.

“We only get one opportunity to get this right before the skills and resources are lost,” he said.

Among the suppliers reportedly in discussions with Ethan are Mr Newey’s former employer, Futuris, and panel stamping specialist Precision Components. The latter stamps smaller steel panels for all three local manufacturers from a factory in Beverley, South Australia.

Among the Ethan executives guiding the fledgling company are former SA academic and political advisor Brigid Mahoney, of Ethan Consulting.

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