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Holden and Ford to get greener

Master planners: Federal industry minister Senator Kim Carr (left) with prime minister Kevin Rudd yesterday in Melbourne.

Ford and Holden to announce new green-car projects in wake of new federal car plan

General News logo11 Nov 2008

By DAVID HASSALL

FORD Australia and GM Holden are expected to announce new green car projects in the next few months following the release this week of the government’s new car plan, which includes a more than doubling of the Green Car Innovation Fund to $1.3 billion over 12 years.

Federal minister for innovation, industry, science and research, Senator Kim Carr, told GoAuto on Monday that both Ford and Holden had given him undertakings that they would follow Toyota Australia, which has already been promised $35 million form the fund to build a hybrid Camry at Altona.

Mr Carr said that the government expected a significant commitment from the industry in return for the $6.2 billion commitment outlined in the plan.

“I’ve had undertakings from all the major companies, and from the suppliers, about a whole new approach to the industry,” Senator Carr told us.

“The companies have individually and collectively agreed to significant new investments being made and we would expect that to be rolled out, with announcements to be made over the next few months of specific projects that otherwise would not have been done.” Are these specific green car projects? “Yes.” So more than just Camry? “Yes.” Have Ford and Holden given those sort of undertakings? “Yes. I’m expecting over the next few months to be able to announce new projects.” GM Holden executive director of corporate affairs Jason Laird told GoAuto that the company had told the government of its short, medium and long-term plans as part of the review process, but would not reveal the nature of its green car plans, or whether they would be locally-produced or imported products.

“Stay tuned,” he told us. “We’ve got a number of things that we’re looking at, so we could have a number of announcements.” Holden has previously revealed that it is looking at a variety of developments, including ethanol, LPG, diesel, direct-injection, cylinder-deactivation, hybrid and the electric Volt model from the US.

 center imageToyota Camry production, GM Holden's Jason Laird and Ford Australia president Marin Burela.

Mr Laird said that the company is still looking at building a small car in Australia alongside the Commodore – as exclusively reported by GoAuto more than a month ago.

“(A second line) has not been dismissed,” said Mr Laird. “It is one of a number of things we are looking at. There are a lot of things still on the table.

“We’ve given some indications to the government in terms of the types of product plans that we’re looking at right out to 2020 and the great thing from today is that we get to start on those and move forward.” The local car-makers were, of course, opposed to the reduction in the import tariff (down from 10 per cent to five per cent from January 2010), but have accepted it and seem more concerned with the affect of currency movements.

“Exchange rates have been moving quite fiercely in the last 60 days and by the time we get to 2010 it could be a different trading environment from a currency perspective, so we’ll get on with business and we’ll live with that,” said Mr Laird.

Ford Australia’s new president and CEO, Marin Burela, was also reluctant to elaborate on what undertakings his company had made to the minister in negotiating the car plan package, or what it may do to take advantage of the Green Car Innovation Fund.

“It’s too early for me to speculate on those, but what I can say to you is that, with the way the green car fund has now been restructured, where it is proposed to kick into play from 2009 onwards, it gives companies like ours true incentive to look for ways to invest in technology and local manufacturing,” Mr Burela told us.

“We’ve made it known to the government that our intention is to be major player in the Australian auto industry, and we made it clear to them some of the structural things that are required to allow the industry to move forward.

“What the plan has outlined is a framework that allows us to look for ways to invest in the future, in green cars and technologies that may otherwise have been difficult to justify, so we’re very pleased with the progress that’s been made and the way that we’re going to move forward.

“Certainly the government has been very keen to understand what our potential plans would be, but obviously I can’t talk about those things today.” Mr Burela said that Ford endorses the new plan and is encouraged that it will stimulate the industry.

“We made our position known to the government in terms of tariffs, but at the same time I would have to say that the plan has taken into consideration all of the aspects of what the industry needs. We think that, on balance, it provides a platform for the industry to move forward and will remain vibrant and successful in Australia.

“Here at Ford Australia we are very clear on what we need to do and how we need to go about delivering it.

“We have to think about 2020, but it is more critical to ensure that from 2009 through to 2015 that we are able to position ourselves so that we are going to be here in 2020, and that’s what the plan does.” Like its US-owned rivals, Toyota Australia welcomed the new plan, saying it will assist the local manufacturers competing in “one of the most competitive and open automotive markets in the world”.

“The government’s policy settings will assist the industry to evolve to meet this competition and build a solid base for future development,” said Toyota Australia president and CEO Max Yasuda.

“In particular, the introduction of the Green Car Innovation Fund will provide a strong incentive for local manufacturers and component suppliers to introduce new technology and processes that support the production of innovative vehicles, parts and production systems for local and export markets.

“Minister Carr emphasised the government’s firm belief that a strong and competitive Australian automotive sector is an important part of this country’s economic and social fabric. This belief was translated by him into regular consultation with the industry across a broad range of complex issues.

“We look forward to continuing this level of involvement in the years ahead.” Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) chief executive Andrew McKellar echoed the Big Three in saying that the government’s plan is “a vote of confidence in the Australian automotive industry”.

“It will encourage future investment in the industry and particularly investment in environmentally friendly technology in the design, development and production of low-emissions vehicles here in Australia,” said Mr McKellar.

“The industry endorses the package and also acknowledges the very strong process of consultation the government has undertaken throughout this review.

“If you look around the world, you will have seen significant announcements by the government in the United States that they will provide support along similar lines to what’s been suggested here, so in that sense the Green Car Innovation Fund is a world-leading example.

“Europe is moving in the same direction, so I think we can see that this is competitive support and it’s in line with what’s being contemplated elsewhere in the world.

“This is a long-term vision. It is about investing in the next generation of cars that will be built here in Australia and the (generation) beyond that, so it’s a very strong measure of support and a vote of confidence in the future of the industry.

“We have a clear indication from the global manufacturers that they are here for the long-haul, they want to invest in Australia and this package will certainly go a long way to encouraging and ensuring that outcome.”

Read more:

Expanded $6.2b car industry blueprint released

Local car suppliers shed jobs

Go global, says Carr

Economists say Bracks tariff modelling is wrong

Federal industry review finally revealed

Big Three take tariff fight to Canberra


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