An autonomous and electric car made in Australia could help re-energise the local car industry, which despite a series of blows over past years still retains a great deal of talent and manufacturing skills, according to the automotive engineers behind the proposal.
The factory closures of Toyota, Ford and Holden in 2017 and more recently, the pulling of the Holden brand altogether by parent auto maker General Motors has depleted the Australian car manufacturing industry, with loss of employment not only from the closures but also in supply chains, impacting communities.
But a new proposal from the Society of Automotive Engineers – Australasia (SAE-A) wants to breathe life back into Australia’s automotive industry, and has shared images of a modular, composite concept in the form of a police car to illustrate its vision.
“COVID-19 has shown the importance of car manufacturing, and we propose to start with a car that no other country could build,” SAE-A chairman and CEO Adrian Feeney said in a statement.
According to Feeney, the new car would draw on processes that birthed the aXcess Australia concept car designed by Melbourne-based car designer Gary Millard in the 1990s to showcase the innovative design and manufacturing skills of Australia’s automotive components industry to the world’s major automotive manufacturers.
By showcasing what Australian innovation could do, the aXcess concept reportedly generated $1.25 billion in export dollars over a five year period according to Museums Victoria where it is now immortalised.
Feeney says that with many of the original components makers that contributed to the concept still operating here, it’s time to do it again.
But this time, the SAE-A wants to produce not only a concept vehicle but a medium-volume production vehicle.
“We would design it at the cutting edge of near-horizon technology, and we would build it in the medium volumes which Australia has always excelled in,” says Feeney.
“So what would it look like? It would be electric, substantially autonomous, built of advanced composites and made in a total volume of 50,000 to 100,000 per year.”
To get the process started, the SAE-A are joined by Delineate, an automotive design company headed by Robert Veitch who has worked with the likes of Tesla and Google’s Waymo and who has designed the police car concept above.
“Delineate has given us our initial inspiration – a blue-sky imagining of what a 21st century police car might look like – as a first step towards a commercially viable real-world vehicle,” says Feeney.
Feeney’s vision includes a modular family of specialist vehicles made for a global market such as police cars, ambulances, or light military vehicle all made on the same platform.
“We have always achieved more with less – more performance, greater strength and value for money, with smaller budgets, fewer engineers, and tighter economies of scale,” he says.
“We still have the core engineering and manufacturing skills here, and if we have learnt anything from this current situation, it is imperative that we do it and do it now.”
SAE-A joins other visionary thinkers that want to kickstart the Australian auto manufacturing industry – such as ACE-EV which has plans to manufacture a series of composite electric vehicles in South Australia, and H2X, which earlier in June announced its intention to bring to market a series of purpose-built hydrogen-powered vehicles including a fuel cell SUV dubbed “Snowy”.
Feeney says that with Australia’s experience in using advanced composites, the local industry is well positioned to take advantage of a new era of mobility.
“For example, the first car was made of advanced composites such as Kevlar, and right now in Australia we build cars with even more advanced Kevlar-carbon fibre panels,” he said.
“If we move now to harness our engineering brainpower while we still have it, we can design and develop the cars of the future and we have the factories to build them.
“The time is right to put money and political will behind our engineers and our manufacturers and rebuild a specialist car industry that can be the envy of the world,” says Feeney.