How Aus’ love of V8s & utes has revived local automotive skills

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Australia’s love of V8s and utes is reviving jobs and skills that many feared would be lost forever. 

Local car manufacturing died two years ago, but from the ashes a new industry has emerged.

As sales of utes continue to hit record levels – they were the top three selling vehicles outright last month – and demand for V8s has not waned, car giants Ford and Nissan have announced partnerships with local engineering firms that will tailor imported vehicles to better suit Australian buyer tastes.

A special edition Mustang – with a supercharged V8 that has more power than the race cars on the grid at Bathurst this weekend – will soon have performance parts from the US fitted in a former Ford factory in Broadmeadows.

One of Ford’s three production facilities has been bought back – and will be taken out of mothballs early next year after being shuttered in October 2016.

Meanwhile Nissan has enlisted the help of Premcar, an engineering firm previously responsible for bringing high-performance knowhow to locally-made Ford Falcons. 

The company has re-engineered the suspension of the Nissan Navara ute to better suit Australian roads, and will fit a range of locally-developed parts at its new facility on the northern outskirts of Melbourne as the vehicles arrive from Thailand. The Nissan operation is due to start turning out vehicles from next month.

Both companies have created 80 new jobs between them (roughly 40 each) and they say more than half the workforce will be former blue-collar workers from Australia’s last three car manufacturers Ford, Holden and Toyota.

The Ford facility will complete six Mustangs a day while the Nissan line will add its finishing touches to 10 utes a day. By comparison, when Australian car manufacturing was at its peak, Holden, Ford and Toyota each produced more than 600 cars a day. 

“It’s not about the volume, we can never compete with full-scale manufacturing,” says Premcar boss Bernie Quinn, pictured above. “For us this is about 40 new jobs, but equally important is the fact that we are keeping a set of skills alive that many in the industry had written off forever. At least we’ve managed to hold onto this.”

Nissan wanted to take advantage of the recent shift towards top-end utes in Australia, but the Navara factory in Thailand couldn’t make the necessary changes in time, so it approached Premcar. When it goes on sale next month, the Navara “Warrior” will be the most expensive ute Nissan has sold in Australia, priced close to $65,000.

Meanwhile, Rob Herrod, pictured below, has been working on fast Fords for more than 40 years from his workshop in Melbourne’s northern outskirts. He will soon set-up shop inside one of Ford’s former factory sites at Broadmeadows.

After hotting-up between 200 and 300 Mustangs a year for individual customers since 2015, he has been brought in-house to produce Ford’s latest limited edition.

“While it’s not full scale car manufacturing this is still a highly skilled area and it’s great to see we are keeping some of those skills alive in Australia,” said Herrod, who will be responsible for turning out 500 limited-edition Mustangs to be sold in Ford dealerships from next year.

Ford sought a local solution because the US factory couldn’t produce a more powerful version of the Mustang in comparatively limited numbers for Australia. 

The Mustang has been the top-selling sports-car locally for three years, but buyers have been calling for more power.

Instead of losing business to independent workshops, Ford will now get a larger slice of the supercharged V8 action with the help of Herrod. 

The special edition is priced from $99,980 plus on-road costs, about $35,000 more than the regular Mustang V8. Early indications are they will all be sold before the first one is built.

The Ford and Nissan deals follow a formula Holden has been using with its performance-car partner, Holden Special Vehicles, for more than 30 years.

Rather than enhancing locally-made cars, the Holden Special Vehicles facility in Clayton employs more than 160 workers who engineer and fit performance parts to a range of imported vehicles.

HSV adds its special touch to the Holden Colorado ute. Another assembly area on the same Clayton site, pictured below, remanufactures US pick-ups from Chevrolet and Ram – and the Ford Mustang’s rival, the Chevrolet Camaro – from left- to right-hand-drive.

“We’re so lucky in many ways that we had car manufacturing skills to draw from. While it’s a different process than mass production, we still need certain skill sets,” says John Di Berardino, a former Holden Special Vehicles engineer who is now in charge of the Ram pick-up assembly line.



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