Vale: the car industry

I wrote the following comment on Gene Tunny’s blogpost on a piece documenting the last car rolling off an Australian mass production line. (We still make specialty cars in runs of a hundred or so a month).

The history of automotive industry policy in Australia is a tribute the intellectual laziness of the protectionism/free trade debate in Australia. The issues were always much more subtle – and interesting.

Anyway, a long-running policy nightmare which began with the local content plans of the late 1950s and 60s is finally passeds, something for which we can be grateful. And economists will go on believing that making cars in Australia is like making underpants. A mug’s game. What with us being a high wage country and all – like Canada, the US, Germany and Japan. Oh wait …

It’s not true that Australia was poorly suited to making cars but who cares about that when you’re having a good bit of argy bargy in the pub?

Those who are interested might like to read an article I wrote on the history of some of this for the Australian Economic review recently.

Quick quiz apropos of nothing much:

1. Q: Which government body recommended local content plans in 1965 and who was its chairman?
A: The Tariff Board – the forerunner of the IAC, IC and now PC. The Tariff Board was chaired by Alf Rattigan at the time.

2. Q: What Australian car was exported in larger numbers than were supplied the local market?
A: The Mini Moke in 1975.

3. Q: What proportion of Holdens were exported in 1974 (with virtually no assistance and the heavy cost penalties of the local content plan). Over 20%, to the region, and to Europe. I remember driving around Greece twenty five years ago following a Holden Belmont Ute across the Peloponnese.

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