Lights out for unions and workers if car manufacturers don't make electric switch

Union

IMMEDIATE RELEASE, 24 June 2013, Zero Emissions Media Centre, Melbourne

"Pay cuts and job losses are just the beginning if General Motors doesn't choose to end Commodore production and build the Volt at its Australian car manufacturing plants," said Matthew Wright Executive Director of climate and energy solutions think-tank Zero Emissions.

"Recent comments by General Motors Holden Managing Director Mike Devereux, calling for a reduction in work force and pay rates to stem the bleed are just another form of MAD, (managed adaptive decline). which has been going on at the car manufacturer for a decade. 

"It's going to take a lot more than slashing the workforce and slashing pay to get GMH back on course," said Mr Wright.

"General Motors is selling the electric car of the future today in the US for $39,990 and even though the Volt is in its infancy as a platform GM are producing the car in greater volumes to the locally made Holden Commodore a car that has been around for over 34 years.

"The Federal government has spent over $2 billion in subsiding Holden in the past decade and we've got the same old uninspiring, unexciting and costly gas guzzling cars.  The public have moved on and the future is electric," said Wright.

"Further backing of the car industry could only be justified if any proposal includes retooling production lines to build GM Volt like electric vehicles, this would include dumping the outdated Commodore line.

"With over one million car sales annually the Volt in Australia could become a very profitable car by picking up 10-30% of those with the right support.  This would be achieved through a restructure of FBT legislation, buyer incentives and Government purchasing," said Wright

"At the moment the Volt is not a serious proposition with a price tag that's 50% dearer here than in the United States.  Holden would have to get serious and produce the Volt locally at an equivalent or better price point than its US equivalent.

"If unions, workers and suppliers want to stave of the decline and destruction of the industry, stave off the inevitable axing of jobs and pay cuts, drying up of local manufacturing opportunities, then that won't come through throwing money at the same old outdated product lines," said Wright

"Zero Emissions Australia calls for a special action plan.  Under the plan the Government sets up a fund to retool the Australian automotive plants to build pure 'plug-in electric' or 'plug-in hybrid electric' vehicles.  The government offers an upfront $8,000 subsidy to buyers on the first 10,000 electric vehicles produced in each Australian car manufacturing plant.

"And to be clear there is no value in locally producing hybrid electric vehicles that can't plug-in such as the recently subsidised limited run Camry Hybrid which Toyota is producing and there is equally no point subsidising so-called low emissions or low fuel consumption models such as Holden's V8 that randomly turns off four cylinders every now and then for negligable fuel savings.

"The industry needs a revolution and that involves moving each of the car manufacturers platforms from old petrol drive trains to simpler, more elegant and efficient electric drive trains.

"Through electrification we can beat fuel prices rises avoiding the pain at the petrol pump that is hurting so many Australians and we can run our cars on renewable solar and wind power," said Wright

"And if consumers are worried about range, in the case of the volt 'plug-in hybrid' they get the best of both worlds, an internal combustion engine combined with an electric motor and batteries.  Usage data from the US shows that most drivers of 'plug-in hybrid' electric cars are running in pure electric mode over 75% of the time," said Wright

"The other part of the story as to why the local car industry is struggling is also related to pollution.  The high Australian dollar being caused primarily by the dirty coal, gas and coal seam gas exporters is hurting Australian manufacturing.  At the same time as retooling GM, Toyota and Ford (if they stay) for the future we need to take the foot of the gas when it comes to fossil fuel exports, placing an immediate moratorium on them so that Australian manufacturing amongst other badly hit sectors can survive.

"Come on Holden, come on AMWU, come on Canberra, come on Aussie give Aussie workers a fair go, give Aussie workers electric vehicles to build," said Wright.

For COMMENT: Matthew Wright 0421 616 733 matthew@zeroemissions.org.au

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