Aussie car manufacturing could return via electric cars, says Tesla chair

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Words: Matthew Hansen
4 Jun 2021

It’s been four years since the last Aussie-built Holden Commodore rolled off of the production line, and not much has really changed in the time since to support that idea of vehicle production coming back to the region.

General Motors did sink a healthy investment into its Australian design and tech division at a point. Vietnamese car-maker VinFast has bought up Holden’s old ‘Lang Lang’ car testing facility. And a series of smaller firms, ranging from General Motors Specialty Vehicles to Premcar, perform vehicle conversions and upgrades in Australia. The thunderous Brabham BT62 supercar is also produced in Australia.

As far as big-scale car production in Australia goes, however, it’s been pretty much dead since Holden, Ford, Toyota, and Mitsubishi left town. But, this could change according to one of the heads of Tesla.

Robyn Denholm is the Chair of the electric car specialist manufacturer. Born and raised in Sydney, Denholm says the transition to electrification could provide Australian manufacturing with an opportunity to return to the fold.

Denholm isn’t just familiar with the industry due to her Aussie upbringing. She also used to work for Toyota Australia. Speaking at the Australian Minerals Council conference earlier this week, she cited that the country is well placed because of its know-how and minerals, among other things.

“We can achieve a thriving economy fueled by better jobs, mining jobs, advanced manufacturing jobs, technology jobs, renewable energy jobs – and a thriving environment enabled through cleaner energy and practices,” she said.

“Can Australia move even further up the value chain? To large scale cell manufacturing? To vehicles? In my view, that’s a possibility. Australia has the minerals, the know-how and many of the skills. I don’t know whether Australia will manufacture full vehicles again [at a wide scale], but I know Australia can because I’ve seen us do it before. I know if we do, they’ll be electric.”

“Imagine an Australia where lithium is mined in Ravensthorpe; it’s refined in Kwinana; used to manufacture battery cells in Rockhampton; which are installed in a bus built in Moss Vale. The bus is recharged with equipment built and designed in Brisbane, powered by Australian solar energy courtesy of silicon quartz mined in South Australia.”

Australia’s relationship with the electric car continues to be a complicated matter. The state of Victoria has green-lit plans to put through an AU$3000 subsidy on electric vehicles (beating New Zealand to the punch).

The same state, however, plans to also place added taxes on EV owners, making it one of the only places in the world where EVs are hit with more tax than internal combustion vehicles.


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