End of a manufacturing era

October 21, 2017

In Shepparton we may not make cars, but we have a huge appreciation of them.

The Shepparton Motor Museum is a permanent drawcard for car lovers across the country, the annual SpringNats car festival draws thousands, car clubs and collectors abound, and we know sheds and carports across the region are home to treasured heirlooms and restored classics.

So it is with a shared sadness we mark the end of an era in the South Australian town of Elizabeth with the closure of the Holden plant yesterday.

The closure draws the curtain on Australia’s vehicle manufacturing industry after shutdowns by Ford last year and Toyota earlier this month.

The departure of the remaining 955 Holden workers yesterday means an end to a way of life for generations of car workers and their families.

The Elizabeth plant opened in 1963 and, at its peak, between June 2003 and July 2005, produced 780 vehicles a day, including the VY Commodore, the Adventra, Crewman, Caprice and Statesman.

But the plant was about more than cars.

Whole communities, particularly newly-arrived European migrants built their lives around the plant and a culture of food, families, cars, travel and friendship emerged.

Perhaps a way for us here in the Goulburn Valley to understand the depth of loss the town of Elizabeth is feeling is to imagine if SPC were to close.

There are arguments about the pros and cons of the end of car manufacturing in Australia.

For the economists, the closure marked an end to taxpayer handouts to keep automotive factories alive.

On the other hand, the car industry argued no country in the world has a car industry not dependant on government assistance, tax incentives or import tariffs.

The car industry needed $300million a year in government assistance to keep factories running, a lot less than the estimated $3billion a year for building navy ships and submarines, which also employs less people.

So the decision to end the subsidy was a political not an economic one.

All we can hope now is that with the changes being brought in through artificial intelligence and robotics some sort of car industry will remain on the fringes.

But nothing can replace the mystique and the pride of a genuine Australian car, built and enjoyed by Australians for decades.

We know the Holden classics in sheds across the Goulburn Valley and beyond will occupy an even more treasured place in the hearts of all car lovers.

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