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Australia ascendant: with decades of automotive development and production experience, a reputation for doing more with less and an address next door to the world's fastest growing markets, Australia is on the rise.

Decades of designing and building what are essentially unique vehicles have allowed the Australian automotive industry to achieve a level of global relevance despite the fact only 380,000 cars are produced there each year. It is a success predicated largely on skills developed by making the most of limited resources, which may explain why Oz is becoming increasingly important to GM, Ford and Toyota. "We make 54 models off of 14 variants off of one architecture," says Ian McCleave, Holden's executive director, Planning and Program Management. "And we build them all in one plant." (You can see why Bob Lutz endures those 15-hour flights to Melbourne.) Ford's story is similar. Its Australian engineering staff has been designing variants off of Falcon platforms since the Kennedy Administration and currently transform the rear-wheel-drive layout into models as diverse as sports coupes and SUVs. Even Toyota's young Australian designers have cultivated the wherewithal to quickly develop a drivable futuristic sports coupe from scratch on their own. Couple that experience with the fact that Australia sits in the same time zone as the fastest-growing auto market in the world, and it becomes easier to understand why it has earned a prominent role in automakers' global strategies.

HOLDEN: MORE BACK AND FORTH. In the world of GM, it's cool to be Holden. The comparatively tiny subsidiary has been held up as a scrappy company that eschews bureaucracy, does more with less and consistently turns a profit--qualities the mothership would like to emulate. So Holden is playing an increasingly large role in GM's global operations. It is the center of excellence for large rear-wheel-drive cars, has a strong voice in global design decisions, and has become a significant export platform for both cars and engines. A Holden alumnus now heads design at GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co. (GMDAT) in South Korea, and Australians have become largely responsible for raising the design skills in GM's subsidiaries throughout Asia. Holden's president, Denny Mooney, says there will be even more interaction between his company and the rest of GM in the future. This means more vehicle exchanges, especially between North America and Australia. "I think over time you will see more stuff going back and forth," he explains. This will happen despite the recent cancellation of the Zeta rear-drive architecture on which Holden had the lead, and may include greater adoption of Holden's working methods throughout GM.

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FORD OF AUSTRALIA: GAINING TERRITORY. "We have two objectives," says Thomas J. Gorman, president, Ford of Australia: "First, success in Australia. Second, to be a source of intellectual capital for the rest of Asia-Pacific." To help meet the first objective, Ford recently launched its first homegrown SUV, the Territory, which is based on the Falcon platform. Oddly enough, the Territory is the only domestically produced SUV in a rugged country that is in the midst of surging SUV sales. A signal success for Ford, it has become a top-selling vehicle within its segment, and is helping the company reverse a downward sales trend. It may be the most radical re-working of the Falcon platform to date, requiring a new floorpan, an AWD system and new sheetmetal, but it was all done for less than US $400-million. Says Gorman, "By global standards Territory volume is relatively small at 20,000 to 30,000 units per year, so we have to be able to design and develop efficiently to survive at that low a volume."

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This is a major challenge since Ford of Australia isn't a major exporter, and is doesn't share any global Ford platforms. "We have to be a lot more efficient and effective in the total value chain--not just design and development, but how we work with our supplier partners," says Gorman. "Thus far we have been able to do that. We have a competitive advantage within the Ford world." An example: according to Russell Christophers, director, Falcon & Territory vehicle lines, the original panel stamping plan for Territory called for an average of 4.5 dies per part, but budget constraints dictated two. So the design team reduced the curvatures on many panels to cut the overall number of dies and worked with the die supplier to squeeze three or four parts out of each stamping. The result is an average of only 1.5 dies per part.

As for objective number two, Gorman says, "I see us growing in product design and development importance within the Asia-Pacific region because the potential growth for our products in those markets is quite staggering. It's really good timing for us, the demand is there and the capability is here."

TOYOTA: ADDING TECHNICAL CLOUT. Toyota has only five technical centers in the world.* Putting one in suburban Melbourne may seem as though it was a radical move for Toyota, but Takeo Yagi, president, Toyota Technical Center Australia says the choice was a natural: "In Asia, most suppliers do not have good development capabilities, but because of Australia's long automotive history it has many suppliers with excellent development skills we need for future model development."

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"The people in Japan couldn't believe we did this all in Australia," says Max Gillard, vice president and COO, Toyota Technical Center Australia. He's talking about the Sportivo, a futuristic concept sports coupe that Toyota's Australian design staff took from sketch to drivable vehicle in only eight months, cutting body panels directly from CAD data and never building a prototype. That experience will come in handy because the technical center staff is now in charge of the Australian version of the next Camry. According to Gillard, that vehicle also will be built without resorting to prototypes.

In the short term, the Australian center will focus on Camry and Avalon because they are manufactured locally. (It also will serve as the development voice for markets like Saudi Arabia where the Australian-built Camry is the best-selling vehicle.) But Gillard says that the eventual goal is to compete for TMC contracts on a global basis. He's candid about what that will take: "We must become the most cost competitive technical center in the world, because we don't have the money or the volume." But he is also optimistic, "Japan has already been surprised at what we can do for less."

*The other four are in Japan, the U.S., Belgium and Thailand.

By Kermit Whitfield, Senior Associate Editor
COPYRIGHT 2005 Gardner Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:The INDUSTRY; Holden Ltd; Ford Motor Company of Australia Ltd; Toyota Motor Corporation Australia Ltd.
Author:Whitfield, Kermit
Publication:Automotive Design & Production
Article Type:Industry Overview
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:May 1, 2005
Words:1062
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