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Market Insight: China sends us more cars, others retract

Rok the world: Volkswagen’s Amarok ute has put Argentina firmly on the map of countries that export vehicles to Australia.

Car-making in global state of flux as once-major production plants move countries


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20 Sep 2021

CAR manufacturing has rarely seen such diversity in its countries of origin. Where Europe provided the springboard at the turn of the 20th century, car plants have more recently sprung up in countries as diverse in location as Finland and Vietnam, Ecuador and Mexico.

Australia sources its new vehicles from around 25 countries including Finland (3541 cars in 2020, mainly Mercedes-Benz GLC) and Mexico (11,684 vehicles in 2020 mainly Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace, Audi Q5 and Ram trucks) while it is yet to get cars from Vietnam and there is perhaps no chance of driving one ex Ecuador.

Locations of factories are geared towards production costs so countries with low-priced labour, access to transport corridors for export, a large domestic market of consumers and access to raw materials are some of the paramount requirements.

Thailand, for example, has become a popular manufacturing centre, with production soaring and supply to Australia almost doubling in the past decade.

Thailand now supplies most utes – Hilux, Ranger, Triton, Navara, Isuzu Ute and Mazda BT-50 – and some passenger cars including Corolla, Mazda 2 and CX-3, and most Hondas including CR-V, H-RV, Civic and Accord.

As countries such as Thailand increase in popularity, other countries are producing smaller numbers of vehicles for export to places like Australia.

Japan sold almost 370,000 vehicles in Australia in 2004 and hit 390,000 in 2012 but has slipped to 334,000 in 2019 and 309,000 in 2020.

Britain is in the same boat, rising from 15,000 in 2010 to 32,000 in 2015, now slipping to 18,916 in 2020 after Honda’s Swindon production facility closed.

China, on the other hand, sold 17 vehicles in Australia in 2004 and 17,957 in 2019. This year this is expected to surge to about 73,000 units as price and features lure buyers to brands including MG, GWM-Haval and LDV.

Germany has moved a large slice of production outside of Germany, particularly Slovenia, Hungary, the Slovak Republic and Argentina.

It sourced 87,894 vehicles from Germany for the Australian market in 2015 and last year this was 58,558.

Argentina makes the Volkswagen Amarok, which Australia took 3519 examples of in 2020, about a half of all Amaroks sold here. The rest came from Germany.

Argentina supplied no passenger vehicles in 2010 (though previously sold some buses and trucks) but started importing the Amarok a year later, with 2600 sales in 2011. Within four years it had hit more than 6700 units and despite the pandemic-related retraction in 2020, appears to be back on the rise.

The South American country is expected to export about 8000 Amaroks this year, almost up to the 8223 imported to Australia in 2015.

Like Germany, the US has put some production outside of its borders. It has a large car-manufacturing business in countries including Mexico, Canada, Romania, Germany and Thailand.

Cars from the US have fallen from almost 60,000 in 2015 to just under 34,000 in 2020, much of this attributed to falling Jeep sales and the demise of Dodge and Chrysler models including the 300 sedan, but mainly because production of US vehicle brands for Australia is increasingly coming from other markets.

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