Automotive sector

SEA La Trobe Valley promises scourges like the auto industry did – by Shane West

Electric powertrain and truck producer SEA Electric has decided not to go ahead with a planned plant in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley. Here, Shane West laments the decision taken after the company won an order to build 1,500 electric trucks in the United States.

SEA Electric started life as a fully Australian technology and manufacturing company making electric transmissions and assembling trucks from CKD kits in Melbourne.

But like many, the company has decided that its largest markets and sources of capital will be overseas, with SEA having recently moved its headquarters to Los Angeles, California.

SEA now announcing that it will not go ahead with the Latrobe Valley factory project is such a shame as the basis for the company was formulated in Australia, but it is not surprising.

This is, unfortunately, a sign that the Australian and federal governments are not moving quickly enough to secure contracts and encourage local manufacturing.

The three levels of government must work in close compliance and use their purchasing power to create start-up capital that will add value to permanent local manufacturing jobs, using local green steel, aluminum and local production of batteries. But they must continue the work.

It is clear that electrification has been in operation and has been for more than a decade.

But what have the Liberals and Labor done about it?

Australia’s auto industry should not have been destroyed by the Abbott government which withheld the agreed payment of $ 275 million to keep Holden and Toyota in business for the next decade.

They should have had a transition plan to the VE. Sadly, just before the 2013 federal election, then minister Kim Carr failed to ratify the deal – again too slowly.

Abbott was determined to cut the 2013 budget by $ 500 million, but now they’re spending $ 500 million on the Australian War Memorial expansion?

A case of different priorities perhaps.

The shift to electric vehicles was obvious and the Holden design team had already produced the Holden Bolt in Melbourne.

Nissan Leaf components are still cast in Melbourne – the last of the OEM car makers with significant manufacturing here.

All it takes is leadership and all three levels of government to support local manufacturing and we can and must restart the industry.

SEA should be encouraged to continue local production here and play an important role in the revival of electric vehicle production in Australia.

In any case, this illustrates that the Australian Department of Industry is in need of a major overhaul.

Those who have been around for the past decade or more have lived through the two decades of industry decline have shown how inefficient and remote they are from industry knowledge, operating in the safe Canberra bubble.

The economy and the benefits of being part of the energy transition are obvious and this requires local manufacturing to be a major player and must be quickly acted on and implemented.

Please don’t just sit around and have the Big Five accounting firms writing reports for inane ministries.

Shane West has been a director and consultant with Environmental Sciences Australia Pty Ltd for 30 years. Shane is a local technology maker and has published research ranging from heat treating cooling towers to manufacturing and marketing sustainable daylighting and natural ventilation products such as the SkyVent. Shane holds a PhD in Sustainable Technologies and Methodologies from UTS.

Photo: SEA Electric / Dandenong Assembly Line / Shane West

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