South Australia can be an electric car powerhouse

South Australia’s unemployment rate is the worst in the country, hitting 7% in November 2016. Things are becoming so though for SA to make a buck, they were seriously considering being the world’s toxic waste dump. Ugh, it didn’t have to be this way. SA could have been the home of a booming electric car industry. It may even still have a shot at it!

This is just the naive rantings of someone who’s extent of vehicle manufacturing was a tour of the Toyota plant in Altona. At the end, if I’m totally off base and wrong, feel free to educate me.

Australia is actually pretty good at car design. The Chevy Bolt everyone in the US is loving? Designed in Melbourne by the Holden design team. Ford’s Ranger ute (also sold as the Everest in dozens of countries around the world), designed fully in Melbournetoo. Ford just pumped a load of cash into it as well, a sign that Ford likes what they’re getting from the design team there, which is one of only 3 design and engineering hubs Ford has.

In the past Mitsubishi made some fine cars in Australia, including the Diamante, which was sold all over the world and up until a few months ago Toyota built the Camry here instead of importing it from the USA or Japan and exported Camrys made here, to the Middle East.

So don’t think Australia can’t build reliable, solid and popular cars. We were doing it right up until a few months ago – so when given the right resources, Aussie can design a car as good as anyone.

The raw materials required to build cars is Australia’s speciality. Hyundai use Australian iron ore and coking coal to make the steel that is turned into car bodiesand then shipped back to us. We’ve got the mines and even the smelters and refineries just sitting there, waiting for orders. Even all the crap that goes into a modern lithium battery can be found in South Australia – look at all the stuff South Australia mines right now. If it’s not in SA, it’s just over in WA or up north in NT.

Tesla built their huge Gigafactory in the desert in Nevada. Why did Tesla choose Nevada? Well besides the obvious tax incentives, there’s a big lithium mine, it’s close enough to their Californian factory, has solid existing infrastrucure links and loads of renewable energy in the form of wind and solar.

South Australia also has lithium, is close to an existing car factory, already has infrastructure for it and SA loves renewable energy. I’m sure South Australia can manage a few political incentives in return for a fuckload of jobs and future tax revenue.

Like the car design, Australia is great at extracting raw materials. We ship it off to other countries now, but the environment required to turn the dirt into stuff that goes into a car, in Australia instead, couldn’t be any better.

A car is more than just the motor and the metal, there’s loads of parts inside a car that the manufacturer contracts out and purcahses from specialists. Things like seats, speedos, airbags, brakes, cruise control, mirrors, glass – all that stuff is generally made by a third party and shipped to the manufacturer to put together into a vehicle. Australia has a strong industry of parts makers. Look at them all! Pretty much anything that goes in a car can be made here.

Take the Chevy Bolt for example – its drivetrain is made by LG, not General Motors. The parts are shipped from Korea to Oregon and put together there. Australia has the ability to make those electric motors and Tritium already have battery management systems and charging infrastrucutre. There’s loads of “advanced manufacturers” in Australia chomping at the bit to support an automotive industry once again.

The fact Holden, Ford and Toyota are leaving makes these companies desperate for work – there’s literally an entire supply chain sitting very undertilised right now. I’m sure they’d love to continue operating.

GM Holden – Elizabeth, S.A., 2006. (Australia)

Then there’s the factories, big areas with infrastructure links and staff who’d like to keep making cars. Melbourne has two of em, Adelaide has the other. They’re old and on their last legs, but so was the NUMMI plant in Fremont until Tesla took over and renovated it. At its peak, the Elizabeth plant managed to spit out about 150,000 cars a year during the early 2000s and was being upgraded to support 180,000.

On top of all that, there’s the usual stuff multinationals look for when setting up a big manufacturing plant. Educated engineers to run the plants – there are excellent unis here and there’s an engineering grad glut in AU. Stable geography and government – SA hasn’t got much in the way of natural disasters except for bushfires and while the federal government is incomptent, there’s no riots in the streets or uprisings. Tax incentives and subsidies

Almost every country with an auto industry subsidises it. German automakers were recently exposed as having an extremly cosy relationship with the government, having extracted over 11 billion Euros of welfare a year since 2007. Let’s not forget the US government bailing out the big three.

All the ingredients required to build an electric car are here, yet nothing is happening. The world is on the cusp of a revolution in transport, where all that knowledge in making complex internal combustion engines is now obsolete. Suddenly there’s an advantage for those who don’t have expertise making engines and transmissions, but electronics instead.

This odd period while everyone is figuring out what the hell to do is an opportunity to get involved while the confusion is happening. This could have been all been done to build electric cars in South Australia. The world class design skills exist, the raw materials are there for the exploiting with the skills to extract it cheaply, the people and companies involved with the supply chain are still alive and keen to get back in action, and the state desperately needs the work.

Obviously, there’s wayyyyy more to it than I haven’t explained or even thought about. If it was easy, it’d be done already. But it just all seems too perfect for South Australia not to be fighting hard to get something off the ground and participate the electric car industry. The wealth it would bring to the state and to Australia as a whole would be immense.

At the very least, why isn’t Jay Wetherall and a bunch of his cronies lobbying Elon Musk to build a right hand drive Tesla factory in Adelaide? The French are doing it, why isn’t SA? Why isn’t the Federal government involved? SA even have a giant advantage with Simon Hackett being a Tesla spokesperson and all the hype around Tesla’s grid connected batteries out near Jamestown! Gigafactory 2 out in the Great Victoria Desert and the RHD Telstra factory making hundreds of thousands of electric cars for the UK, Japan and ourselves in Elizabeth. It could totally be a thing if we want it to.

Anthony Agius

The Sizzle is curated by Anthony "@decryption" Agius, who has been hanging around the tech scene in Australia like a bad smell for over a decade.

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