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Hodgett optimistic despite automotive demise

Good decision: Victorian manufacturing minister David Hodgett said he is happy that Ford Australia decided to keep its design and development unit open in Broadmeadows.

Victorian manufacturing minister remains upbeat despite plant closures

27 Jun 2014

VICTORIA'S manufacturing minister still has an optimistic view of the future, despite the imminent demise of the automotive manufacturing industry in Australia.

But Minister David Hodgett said he was resigned to losing the three manufacturers, but praised the car-maker's decision to keep research and development and design studios open here.

“Their decisions have been made by their overseas head offices,” he said. “I don’t think you’ll see them reversing their decisions.

“But, in terms of design and engineering, Ford will retain a design and engineering centre of excellence here and we have worked hard with Holden to keep many of their design people here, and their proving grounds.

“That was a good outcome,” he said referring to the proving grounds, which were, initially, slated for closure.

Speaking after the VACC Automotive Design Awards ceremony this week, Mr Hodgett said he held great hopes for the development of carbon-fibre expertise and the role it can play in automotive products in future.

“I think light-weighting will be extremely important. You only have to look at Carbon Revolution that makes the single piece carbon fibre wheel, the only company in the world to do it.

“There’s a Dutch company, I think, has taken a stake in them. I think it is the same company that made the move from the steel wheel to the alloy aluminium wheel and I think they see the carbon-fibre wheel is the next step in that evolution.

“I think it has enormous potential to be in the bodies of cars and the chassis of cars. It’ll be in wheels, and truck wheels and aeroplane wheels.”

The Minister said the Government had co-invested $23 million in Carbon Revolution and that half of the expanded workforce at the company were formerly Ford employees.

“That’s a good outcome there and I think there is a big future for carbon-fibre.”

Mr Hodgett acknowledged that Victorian manufacturing was suffering for a number of reasons, including a high Australian dollar, shifting consumer preferences, intense global competition and high energy and input costs.

“Growing competition from lower-cost economies means manufacturers must increasingly develop and excel at capabilities like design and marketing to win over more informed and demanding customers.

“Manufacturing is still a major contributor to the Victorian economy. The latest ABS figures show 280,000 people employed in 25,000 businesses.

“It’s just under 10 per cent of our state’s workforce, a major driver of research and development, a major driver of innovation and I think it contributes just under $26 billion to the state economy, every year.

“So it is significantly important to our economy.”

He said he felt proud earlier this year while touring Ford’s global design and development centre in Detroit.

“I asked how our design engineers stack up. The guy said they were among the best going around. Second to none,” he said.

“That’s the standard of people our universities are churning out in that sector, making a contribution to design and innovation around the world.”

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