Post Industrial Australia and Cars?

Is the automobile manufacturing industry a sentinel for the arrival of a Post Industrial Australia?

One wonders…

If first saw this story as a teaser on Al Jazeera. That Australia had a collapse of their car manufacturing industry. They then didn’t run the story despite my watching the whole news cycle. So I did a web search:

Collapse of Australian car manufacturing industry | Swinburne …
Australian innovation will be hurt in other sectors by departure of the car manufacturing industry, says Abbas Valadkhani.

Autodom collapse almost wrecked Australian car industry
THE company that makes a $6 bonnet hinge nearly brought the Australian car industry to a halt last week. The collapse of parts maker Autodom, which from its …

Collapse of Australian car manufacturing will harm R&D in …
The collapse of the car manufacturing industry will require more investment in R&D and technological innovation to ensure Australia doesn’t fall behind.

Collapse of Australian car manufacturing will harm R&D in …
There are several reasons for the closure of Australia’s car manufacturing industry. The Australian market is … the collapse of the motor vehicle industry could …

Why Australia’s auto industry is going the way of the dodo
Why Australia’s auto industry is going … The collapse of the local industry post-tariffs might serve … Toyota exported 66 percent of its Australian-made cars, …

(I’ve removed the search domain and URLs as they get mangled in the cut / paste)

Lots of folks covering this. The basic story line is that car making is collapsing across the board as everybody is packing up and leaving Australia. The exact statement of what is the cause varies in the different stories. Low wages in Asia, high wages in Australia, too small a market volume, strong $Aus, etc. etc. Not one that I sampled mentioning high electricity prices or the taxes to support a Welfare State. Minor lip service to the impact of regulatory burden.

Now what interests me in all this is that we still make cars in America. Our $US is stronger still, our wage rates abominably high, cheap shipping from Asia and lots of foreign access to our markets. One story papered over this with a reference to the “25% tariff on pickup trucks” as though that meant anything to cars (and ignoring that if you just hire a guy to turn 4 bolts to bolt the bed to the truck in the USA you bypass the tariff, so they just ship over chassis and bed and turn 4 bolts here (or a few more on some models)).

Then there is Tesla. Still in business despite very low volumes.

Somehow I feel unsatisfied with the explanations.

France still makes cars. Germany makes cars. Italy makes cars. Korea makes cars. India makes cars (some from very small volume makers). Cars are made in Latin America. It seems to not be Rocket Science nor require any particular geography, culture or local market size. Korea ships cars to the entire world, as does Germany, Italy, … Hmmm…

Might it be that simply planning to ship to a Global Market matters? Was there any effort at all to ship, for example, to the entire Pacific Basin and Indian Ocean Basin from Australia? Looks to me like they are better positioned to sell into Africa and the Middle East than Japan, Korea, etc. in the Asian area; being already 1/2 way there…

To me, it looks more like a lack of vision than anything else. The vision to say “We will make a global product and we will compete on features”. Once you have decided your market is “domestic only” and then ladle on lots of costs, then the industry packs up and leaves. Make a competitive product with special features and export globally, you can charge higher prices and have economies of scale. It isn’t like Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, and BMW all make cars only for their domestic markets. Similarly, it isn’t like Tesla is a local market only player, or competing head to head with the Ford Focus.

Partly I think this is not the fault of Australians. The major makers there were companies like GM, Ford, Toyota and others where the decisions were made out of the country. For those players, Australia was only a local market for local sales, exports to come from other plants. Could Australia have done better with a true home brand from a company headquartered in Australia? It might have been a niche product, but I suspect they could have found a way.

Perhaps making Supercars (another example of extremely small markets where a global producer survives well), or cars with particularly interesting engines ( rotary engines, or eCars – before the majors have now found them trendy, or even an air cooled DIY friendly car like the old VW Bug ). I know I would have loved to buy one of those Holden “mini-van-cars” seen in “Mad Max” (with a small efficient 4 cylendar Diesel engine if possible). Or an Australian “knock off” of the old Range Rover “Outback Tested” as a tag line. But no such thing was tried. Holden was sold to GM prior to W.W.II and frankly, GM is not a very good sugar daddy.

Some example articles:

Collapse of Australian car manufacturing industry
Friday 21 October 2016

By the end of next year, car manufacturers Mitsubishi, Ford, Holden and Toyota will all have largely exited Australian manufacturing, taking their assembly lines overseas where the cost of production is significantly lower. This will create a that supply accessories and components to the Australian automotive sector.

But beyond the direct impact to suppliers, our research shows there will be a significant impact on output and tens of thousands of job losses in downstream and upstream industries, and in particular, the Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (PSTS) sector. This sector, defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, currently employs more than one million people, or around 8.5% of the total workforce.

There are several reasons for the closure of Australia’s car manufacturing industry. The Australian market is too small and the industry cannot fully exploit economies of scale. To remain solvent they have no choice but to use cheaper foreign production inputs including both labour and parts. The domestic market conditions in Australia has become untenable with a) the lowering of import tariffs and the signing of Free Trade Agreements; b) higher wages and better work conditions demanded by the unions; and c) the appreciation of the Australian dollar. It is very difficult to compete when labour costs in some Asian countries are only one-fourth of that of Australia.


Why Australia’s auto industry is going the way of the dodo

February 15, 2014 @ 12:01 am

TOKYO — Toyota will end Australia’s run as an automaking nation when it pulls the plug on local assembly in 2017. The move follows similar cut-and-run announcements by Ford and General Motors and triggered an outcry Down Under about the demise of local manufacturing.

But the real question isn’t why automakers are closing shop. Rather, it is this: Why were they building there in the first place? Not surprisingly, the answer has a lot to do with tariffs.

The small Australian market hardly warranted local output in an industry where economies of scale matter. So for years, Australia protected local automakers with sky-high import duties. When the tariffs dwindled, so did the appetite to keep making cars there. Australians should have seen it coming.

Warning to others?

The collapse of the local industry post-tariffs might serve as a warning to other markets that still protect local vehicle producers with tariffs. The list includes Malaysia, China and, yes, the United States.

I would only point out that those explanations rely on thinking you are in a commodity market making a product competing only on price… Are there really not enough “gear heads” in Australia to come up with a truly original product with global appeal?

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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43 Responses to Post Industrial Australia and Cars?

  1. pouncer says:

    Nothing about “right hand drive” as a factor? Not that I claim it is such a factor, but knowing that Australia is one of the few markets left (all former UK territories) where the design is mirror image from the rest of the world at least makes me wonder.

    Here in Texas I see, at least once a month, some sort of hopped up tricycle/dune buggy thing on the highways. It certainly gets around the x-side-drive issue. Carries more gear than a two-wheeler, as well. AND scratches a certain “mad max” esthetic itch. Not sure why the Aussie “gear heads” you allude to aren’t building such a recreational vehicle, if no other.

    Douglas Hughes’s gyrocopter / political protest did NOT spawn the flurry of interest I’d expected in personal flying machines. Wonder if Australia allows a market in these rather than requiring all would-be flyers to built from a kit…

    Anyhow, another of our Host’s “mind pleasers” got me off wondering about stuff.

  2. Rhoda Klapp says:

    Yeah, right-hand drive, that’s the killer. Right hand drive like they have in Japan and India?

  3. Lionell Griffith says:

    “Are there really not enough “gear heads” in Australia to come up with a truly original product with global appeal?”

    All you have to do for a commodity product is make it cheaply enough in enough quantity with a sufficient quality and feature set to satisfy its intended purpose. Then market and deliver it to the right buyers at a price they are willing to pay. Not so easy but it is frequently done. Any step along the path has already been done and demonstrated in massive volume by multiple providers. All you have to do is be just a little bit better than the rest at each of the steps and you win. Most of the time, the selling point is that you are there with the product and no one else is. It is mostly attention to detail and fighting for fractions of a cent on the dollar. No huge breakthrough required. Just be a little bit better.

    The down side of a commodity product is that selling it is very price sensitive. Thus it will always be a low margin product where success or failure is very sensitive to cost to produce, market, and deliver. You can be on top of the heap but the next day someone else does a little bit better and you are rolling down the side of the heap at an increasing speed. Being that little bit better than the next guy all the time is hard work.

    Now, a truly original product is one that no one else has ever made. As a consequence there is no one in the market who really expects it to exist so they don’t demand it. If they do, they are wishing for science fiction to be made real and don’t talk about it. Assuming you do make it and successfully market it. Eventually, it to becomes a commodity product. The customer will buy whatever does what he wants it to do for a price he is willing to pay. All the while he is looking for a deal that is good enough for half the cost. Trade offs … for evermore trade offs.

    Translate the above to the automotive industry. Basic commodity transportation = subcompact. Add room for your feet and head = mid sized or suv. Serious work = some kind of truck. All based upon a standardized architecture and accessory kit. Choose color, fittings, additional accessories for added cost. Differentiation between vendors is mostly style. Even that is generally boringly the same. Truly a commodity product. With a few adjustments, any would be suitable for most first and second world markets.

    Is really original possible?

    How about more features? I am a professional software engineer and I either can’t, don’t, or won’t use all the features in my 5 year old SUV. I just want comfortable, safe, reliable, and economic transportation to get me from here to there and back. A fresh coat of paint, a different shape of headlights, a more graphic oriented dashboard, and shag carpets on the floor does not make really original. Its all styling. Differences without distinction. At least for me.

    How about better suited for its environment? If there is something about the environment of Australia that is truly unique requiring a uniquely new product, how could that be of global value? Is there really that much difference between Australia and Texas or the US Southwest? The critters are different and the spoken accent is very different. How does that impact the design and function of ground transportation? Likely not so much.

    That kind of makes the automobile industry Australia as much of a commodity as it is any place else. Basic, comfortable, and work vehicles plus a wide selection of accessories and superficial styles. Nothing but variations on a hundred year old theme.

    Tariffs, government regulations, and taxes don’t add value. They add only to costs. If the local market cannot support the economies of scale required to produce a commodity product without such things, local industry won’t survive very long with them.

    The only thing that has even a chance is someone figuring out how to make automobiles without the heavy industry and assembly lines currently required. Then doing it in such a way that it can be economically done in low volume. With each individual production item being personalized to an individual customer. This would mean the product is not necessarily really original but that the process of making it would be. You would either have to have the technology of the Star Trek Replicator with the AI and database behind it or some advanced form of 3D printing now being called additive manufacturing. Lots of math, geometrical abstractions, and complex programming rather than lathes, grinders, metal stampers, foundries, and castings. The “gear heads” would require a lot of retraining.

    True, I am a software engineer and am biased in favor of the programming approach. However, I find it difficult to see that the same old tools such lathes, grinders, metal stampers, foundries, and the like have much of a lasting future. It will be mostly the same old products made with new materials and new processes with a few really original things being possible but as unlikely as they have always been. The primary distinctions the customer will have to deal with will be as it has always been: styling, cost, and fitness for purpose.

  4. E.M.Smith says:


    I think there clearly are some segments of the car market that are “commodities” for all practical purposes. Most subcompacts / compacts, plain pick-up trucks, the odd sedan.

    Yet there are also many products on offer that clearly are not commodities. Marketing is used along with product design features to “differentiate” a given product from the commodity crowd. Sometimes with good effect, sometimes not so well. Is it easy? Nope. But it IS done. Some examples:

    Sports Cars: Often the most specialized thing a maker produces. Particular note for the Supercar class with 1000 hp engines and 0-60 times measured in small single digits seconds. Think a Mclaren or Lamberghini is a commodity?

    Dodge Cummins Trucks. If so, you haven’t priced one lately… It’s a big upsell for the commercial truck engine “feature”.

    Mercedes S Class. Used for limos world wide…

    There’s a whole lot more. Rock crawlers, RV / Campers, the “Smart” Car dinkymobile, etc. etc.

    Now with all that variety, it ought to be possible to find a niche and fill it…

    Oh, and note that The Big 3 in the USA devolved their parts making divisions into independent companies. This means any new “car assembler” (hardly do GM, Ford, etc really MAKE whole cars anymore /sarc;) just really needs to make the sheet metal and interior bits. You will find a GM (Delco is what I think they called the parts spin-out, or maybe that was just the electrical bits) transmission in some BMWs, I had a USA made truck with a 6 cyl Nissan Turbo Diesel, etc. etc. So it isn’t like you need economies of scale in things like starter motors, alternators, air cleaners, heck, even transmissions or engines. Brakes, axles, differentials, etc. etc. can all be 3rd party bought in small volumes if desired.

    So at one time I owned an International Harvester Scout. It was “made” by International Harvester Company so they could sell trucks for personal use to the farmers who were buying all their farm gear. Sturdy and well made. I wish I’d kept it. 4 wheel drive. The axles and hubs were Warn, the engine for Diesel was Nissan, for Gas was GM or Ford, I forget which. The “body furniture” (window cranks, etc) were GM. You get the idea. Near as I can tell, they made a frame and body panels and cut some glass then stuck it all together. Sold them for many years. Always low volume.

    Now I could easily see such a basic and durable 4 x 4 truck ( patterned on the old Range Rover or maybe newly styled, but still rugged / basic ) tuned for The Outback (so good A/C, oversized gas tank, spare water tank) and sold with a tag line of “Outback Proven / Outback Approved!” (and a picture in the background of the sign I saw heading into the outback saying to make sure you had water and gas cans aboard and not using a wimpy car…) being a package that would sell globally. With the ‘flat panel’ look also comes MUCH easier sheet metal fab. Whole thing ought to be easy to make and at low costs (yet properly marketed still make a decent sales price). Offer a known maker axle / transmission set, and give a couple of choices of known engines, and I’m in. Run pictures of them fording rivers with the snorkel kit and the driver standing so his head is above the water ;-) (Optional water proof solid seats vs normal plush seats…)

    Per Right Hand Drive: Global car makers design the vehicle from the start to take a right or left kit. It isn’t hard to do. For that matter, there’s a company in Australia that makes right hand versions of dash boards via 3D printing for imported US model trucks not available “down under”. They swap the steering / control bits and slap in the new dashboard and resell the “unavailable” models… That’s an extreme example of small scale that works…

    Oh, and I’d love to have a car about the size of the original Honda Insight (2 seater got 60 MPG) but with a little dinky mini-Diesel in it. I think you could likely hit 75 MPG with it. Maybe more. But nobody makes one.

    I could see both those ideas selling into various countries all over. Any harsh climate place (Africa, Western USA / Canada, northern Chile / Argentina, Central Asia, Middle East) having a truck that comes standard able to float on sand and drive 1000 miles between fill ups will have a following. Anywhere with long distances to drive on not much fuel will be happy with a super millage car. (I’ve frequently lusted after the old Honda Insight for the California to Florida trips as it cuts the cost / trip by a few $Hundred… but they haven’t been made for many years and the old ones typically “have issues” like dead battery packs to replace).

    The point? “Major Car Makers” all go after the bulk of the market middle segment, then glue on some variations for the next segment over. They don’t do much in the small segments unless forced to by things like CAFE standards (Mercedes Smart Car – do you really think they want to be selling a shoebox with wheels and crummy seats?) IMHO, there’s plenty of unexplored segments in the smaller sizes that, if looked at globally, would support a company. (The existence of Supercar makers and Tesla IMHO lend support to that notion, though those two are at the high priced end. A global vision Outback Truck IMHO could easily make it in the mid-price range.)

    But NOT if the general business environment is hostile. That’s all the stuff not mentioned in those articles. Labor union actions? Regulatory burden? Taxes? Electricity and G&A costs? My suspicion is that the “problem” lies there, not in the $Aus or the size of the domestic market.

  5. Lionell Griffith says:

    I inserted more than you do into your specification of “really original”. To me “really original” means never been done before in some very fundamental way. It would have to have the elements of human engineering that is expressed in other vehicles or humans would not be able to use it. Clearly, that is not what you meant. Sorry about that confusion.

    If being “really original” means something that can be assembled out of parts gathered from the global market place and assembled in Australia with sheet metal and painting work done locally, then it should be possible to do. A “gear head” who can make custom motorbikes could easily make a rugged vehicle suitable for the Australian Out Back or the US South West Out Back. Sort of a dune buggy with a rugged undercarriage and a protective passenger shell kind of thing.

    I suspect it is a binary issue. Small local custom production or global mass production with nothing much in between. When additive manufacturing does become real, we have a chance to see the field of custom production to start eroding existing mass production industries. I expect that to happen “real soon now” in the same way that AI is going to happen “real soon now”: slowly, incrementally, and extremely specialized for a long time. A Star Trek Replicator is

    We agree on the impact of the hostile business environment. That makes a lot of things that would be good to have happen, never to happen. Such things as lost opportunity cost is invisible to the politicians and is not even a consideration for them. They get a lot of positive press from spending billions of dollars not solving a problem but not one word of press from not creating the problem in the first place. How can they get reelected based upon what they haven’t done? So they do something that makes things worse to have to do something more that makes things still worse. Unfortunately, the thing they make worse is the invisible pile of lost opportunity costs.

  6. Lionell Griffith says:

    Oops: A Star Trek Replicator is a long way off if ever.

  7. hillrj says:

    EM: Output at the Toyota plant in Melbourne Australia was mostly exported.

  8. A C Osborn says:

    There was one very original Car that never made it that was designed in Australia by Gene Van Greckan in the 1970’s.
    It was a Steam Powered vey nice looking Sports Car called a GVANG.

  9. A C Osborn says:

    EM, I would have thought that someone would have looked at the Ox flat packed Off Road Vehicle for Outback use in Aus, it was designed for use in Africa.

  10. Steven Fraser says:

    Chief: Your description of the modern car company reminds me of ‘open source’-based software product creation,,, primarily a systems integration approach, just like dune buggies used to be built. IMO, there is no reason (other than the will to do it, some cash, and potentially govt regulation) that a group of auto techies in AU could not start building ‘Outback’ brand vehicles to the functional/feature set you mentioned. After all, it was the way that the auto industry (and aviation, and Apple, and Microsoft) got started… two guys in a garage with an idea of what could be done.

    I think they would be popular in Africa, too.

  11. Larry Geiger says:

    Lightbulbs. Everyone knew that LEDs were coming and would take over. Significantly reduced power requirement. The government, of course, knew better. Scrap normal bulbs way too soon and legislate and subsidize stupid bulbs. Sometimes, even toxic bulbs.

    So The Government, in all of it’s wisdom, decides to subsidize the next great thing in cars. Only the market is already going there. The government supports bicycles (which essentially no one is going to ride to work. duh!) and electric cars. Now I don’t know what the final solution is but here in Florida it is becoming the gold cart. There are lots of communities here where most people get around doing their daily stuff (shopping, movie going, church going, etc) in a golf cart. I went down to the doctor’s offices next to the new Viera Hospital to see the vampire blood people. I passed the high school on the way. A large percentage of the students came to school and parked their golf carts in the cart lot. They have their own roadways and walkways.I should have taken a picture.

    Once more the market is already moving in a good direction but The Government always feels the need to step in and interfere. Like with windmills. It seems to me that many urban areas in Florida, Alabama, Texas, Phoenix, S. California are ripe for this kind of innovation. At The Avenue in Viera there is a Golf Cart store. Want a jeep cart? They got it. Want a Cadillac cart with gold grill, fancy seats and A/C? They got it. Some of those carts are crazy. Now no one that can afford to live in Viera has just a cart. They also have a car. A gas powered car. To go visit the grandchildren, or go to BassPro in Orlando (more likely IKEA or Millennium Mall but who am I?) or go to the beach.

  12. beththeserf says:

    Yes Larry, there’s Adam Smith’s invisible hand
    and there’s Guvuhmint’s dead hand.

  13. Power Grab says:

    Golf carts! Yeah. I told the driver from the mechanic’s shop the other day . . . eventually we’re going to all end up with golf carts (or “cars” with the power and range of a golf cart). Since TPTB want to turn the entire world into a golf course, I guess that’s just par for the course. ;-)

  14. jim2 says:

    If you drive an electric car in the US or China, you are burning coal – and it’s a good bit of your fuel at that! Gotta laugh at the greenies in their short distance, expensive cars.

  15. Another Ian says:

    Larry Geiger says:
    9 October 2017 at 8:39 pm

    “So The Government, in all of it’s wisdom,”

    Larry, ” government wisdom” just adds to the list of oxymorons

    “Government enthusiasms” however abound

  16. E.M.Smith says:


    I consider “really original” to describe the total product, not the parts. So a car that has no direct competition equivalent from another maker is “really original” even if both have a Bosch ignition system and Delco alternators… But give me to jelly bean shaped Econo-Boxes with the same feature set and MPG, I don’t care if one as super-D-duper never seen before alternator…

    Looks like it would have been a very interesting car, but might have seal problems.

    Now that’s an interesting one… Almost a DIY truck kit.

    @Steve Fraser:

    I think the biggest issue would be the $Million or so it takes to get through all the USA Government Testing. (Smog, Crash, etc. certifications – same thing that basically killed the small plane market and why folks will pay $Thousands for a type certificated nameplate from a wreck so they can build an airplane around it…)

    But yeah, figure a lot of folks want extended range fuel tanks (remember those crash tests though…) and a built in water cooler, add a modest lift from the factory (remember the safety handling govt tests…) and big tires standard (remembering that now many shops will ONLY sell you the OEM tire size as replacements…) and with oversized radiator and AC; I’d love to have one in the desert SW of the USA.


    I think it was on Fox, the guy who basically does Libertarian Complaints (curly hair, looks sort of Armenian or Italian) who covered the fact the US Govt would subsidize getting a golf cart for free if you said you needed one (don’t remember the details). He applied and got one that was shown on the show. So yeah, subsidy strikes again.

    Explains the prices I saw on some of them. $20,000. For a golf cart. Well, if Uncle Sugar is paying for it, who cares…

    But yeah, during my time in the Resort in Florida, there were more golf carts than cars on the road on most days. The other resort had a dedicated cartway to the shopping center / grocery store not crossing any roads. Ours was less fru-fru. We had to “play frogger” across the highway when the light changed… I think it was technically illegal to take it on the road, but then again it was from private road, cross intersection, to private shopping center, so I think nobody cared… Or maybe being under 25 MPH it was legal (but nobody had the yellow triangle on the back so…)

    If I ever get one, I want it done up as a The Prisoner Village theme ;-)

  17. Rhoda Klapp says:


  18. Lionell Griffith says:

    EM: ‘I consider “really original” to describe the total product, not the parts.

    I consider such things merely variations on a theme and not “really original” (aka fundamentally new) and little more than styling. I have worked quite a bit with patent law and with what can and cannot be patented. There “really original” means much more than merely avoiding copyright infringement. Some significant portion of the internals must be actually new AND useful. This isn’t to say that a variation on a theme can’t be successfully built, marketed, and be valuable to the buyer in his context. That is what most products in a given class of products are. They are technologically indistinguishable and interchangeable with slight advantages in some contexts.

    We have very different perspectives on the issue. Thanks for the clarification.

  19. E.M.Smith says:


    Ah, I get it now. You are looking at it and asking “Can it be patented as really NEW tech?” where I’m looking at it and asking “Is it a really DIFFERENT set of features compared to other offerings in the market?”. Both are “unique”, but one is unique new tech while the other is unique in the market features.

    When it comes to automobiles, there isn’t much that can be made which is fundamentally new and patentable, but there are many feature sets missing from the market. Perhaps a LENR driven car or one that floats instead of has wheels… but those are many decades into Future Tech Land…

    One of the things that fascinates me about language is just how much personal context changes meaning. Computer languages eliminate that, but end up broken for any use outside narrow problem sets (and learning to use them well is a royal PITA). Natural languages let you do just about anything with them, but at the cost of fuzzy interpretations possible.

    When I use enough words to be unambiguous, I’m accused of being extremely prolix, technical, and “talking down” to folks. When I use common mode language and level, I get accused of being vague and / or incorrect. There is no acceptable middle ground as that varies based on the reader… you can “level” talking to one person, you can’t “level” against the crowd… Oh Well. It does lead to interesting discussions, though ;-)

  20. Lionell Griffith says:


    Clearing up the understanding due to context differences is the reason extended conversations are so useful. Rather than talking in parallel and never have a meeting of minds, a real conversation must occur. I think we did it this time.

    Neither of us were “really” wrong, we simply had a different perspective on the issue. For me, unique style does make a difference but the border between bizarre and adds value is a fuzzy one. It is very dependent upon personal taste and purpose for using.

    Although, I am going to have to think a bit about equating “unique” with “really original”. That equation seems a bit too fuzzy to me with unique meaning only one exists and really original meaning never existed in the same or or very similar form before. I agree that the set of unique includes all really original things but the set of really original things does not include all unique things. In other words the equation violates the commutative property. Oh well, to be precise and accurate is sometimes to be pedantic.

    Yes, it does lead to interesting discussions.

  21. old45model says:

    Do you blokes realize that most vehicles sold in Oz are designed for use in Europe and North America? Useless in Queensland – without A/C. Back in the sixties the Ozzie Valiant (entirely different to the U.S. tin can) had great big air inlets under the dash – and quarter vents.
    About the nearest thing to an all-round vehicle for Australian conditions. The richer amongst us could purchase them with A/C & electric windows – whoo hoo! They could be flogged around atrocious roads and not miss a beat. They got tinnier and tinnier (and rusted faster) as the years went by, after Mitsubishi took the reins.
    However, as with beauty, it is all in the eye of the beholder – plus ‘what wuz good enuff fer me dad is good enuff fer me’. Depends also upon which injection/s a person has received (those who will only purchase a Holden have had the Holden injection – Cat, the Cat injection – Ford, etc -Toyota, etc) – I’ve seen it all, I reckon.
    The one thing I didn’t see a mention of was using gearing to attain much better fuel economies.
    Some of the vehicles I’ve owned (in the past and also present) are geared to produce peak torque at 50 m.p.h. – the old ‘oil shock’ U.S. standard. Garbage for a country where long distance travel is the norm, not the exception.
    Then again, I suppose the throw-away society is ‘expected’ to have their vehicles start to fail/ fall apart after a few years.
    All draftsmen/women that design anything for use in Oz should be taken out in the Simpson Desert and made to fix faults (purposely made) with a normal tool kit – that would educate them, I reckon.

  22. E.M.Smith says:


    Sounds like a nice vehicle. Similar problems in California. My Mercedes, I love, but the A/C is just not enough in the Mohave Desert… and without it ventilation is just tepid. In Arizona on a 125 F day with AC full on, we were sweating in the car… I think the Germans have never spent a long day in the desert…

    BTW, I love the manual transmission. Getting ever harder to find in a big car. I have both a large sedan and a stationwagon with a manual gear box. They can’t be replaced with anything new… And not just for mileage. Stuck in sand or muck, shifting rapidly from forward to reverse to “rock” the car can get you out. Or even just On-Off on the clutch to climb the well a bit, rock back, climb again a bit higher, rock back, setting up a harmonic oscillation until you are out of the hole. Now off road and rock climbing are specialty aftermarket monster trucks. Folks living at the end of dirt roads call it a “driveway”… and need a car that can handle it. Then, having an “overdrive 5th” gear is a great way to get max mileage. Just at the peak of performance at lowest revs to hold the speed at about 75 MPH. But I think EPA rules killed that one.

    One of my favorite stories is being next to the Oroville Afterbay on a Saturday afternoon and having my car throw a valve rocker pushrod. Old air cooled VW Fastback. Under I go and pull the valve cover (flip the bail with a spanner). There’s the pushrod sticking out to the side of the rocker arm. Up for a “bit of a think”. Sun is headed down in about 30 minutes. I’ve got zero prep gear with me, and only a minimal tool kit. Nearly nobody drives this remote side road after dinner time. What to do?

    Well, the Fastback has dual carbs. One for each 2-cyl bank. I remember something called “air springs”… I take a sheet metal screw from the pretty metal decoration and run it into the fuel line to the carb on that side. No fuel means no running. Under the car, the 13 mm spanner and two nuts removes the rocker arm. Out come the valve push rods. Clip on the valve cover. Up top and start it.

    Runs great. Smooth and easy. Load up my kit and drive home. Only issue? It doesn’t really want to go over 55 unless you wait a long time ;-) VERY slow off the line too. It’s basically an 800 cc engine at that point. Yet it worked.

    In fact, the VW dealer was in another town 15 miles south of my home town, that was itself about 10 miles away. It would open Monday… So I drove the car all Sunday and on into the following week on just 2 cylinders. Nobody else noticed, other than my slow exit from our town’s 3 stop lights ;-)

    Now imagine what happens today with an all-computerized no-access engine… We’re talking a minimum of $200 of towing and more in the “authorized repair station”.

    I’d love to have a car built for “field repairs” like “the old days”.

  23. p.g.sharrow says:

    yeah!This “international” car thing is a real pain. I need SAE and Metric tool sets of wrenches and sockets, a Big set of changeable driver bits as well as being clairvoyant as to where the engineers hid various parts that I might need to access. Then find the bypass to the “brain” that is preventing me to at least get to limp home mode. Then after the “factory trained” tech gets done and I pay $600 for his “Approved repair” I generally have to go back and fix his sloppy work. And I HATE wrenching, getting greasy, busting my knuckles, even if I am very good at it…pg

  24. E.M.Smith says:


    My Ford F350 was made in Canada. Some of it was metric, some was SAE. Had to carry both sets in the truck to work on it… Worst of both worlds.

    The VW air cooled era was designed so that 99% of what you needed to do could be done with a 10 mm, 13mm and for the distributor 8 mm wrench (sockets if you wanted ease and comfort – I bought spanner one end socket the other wrenches ;-) and 2 screwdrivers. ( 4 if into luxury). We did, once, need to buy a giant socket for the axle nuts / flywheel nut. 36 mm? Something like that…). Oh, and a spark plug socket.

    I really wish someone would take that design philosophy and apply it to a small sedan / pickup for today.

    Friend in Oregon and I overhauled the entire engine one weekend in his driveway. New cylinders & Pistons, bearings, the works. IIRC, it was about $75 for the parts.

  25. Larry Ledwick says:

    And to make things interesting there are two different standards for fastener head sizes in metric countries. In Japanese manufacture cars you can do just about everything with an 8mm, 10mm, 14mm wrench with an occasional need for an 18 or 19mm for things like oil pan drain plugs.

    So depending on who manufactures your wrench set you might have to buy a 13mm or 14mm, or an 18 – 19 mm wrench to fill out the set for your car.

  26. Seth Roentgen says:

    Holden did export their V8 Commodore Coupe to the USA, but it didn’t sell well. Too understated was the reaction.

    Larry. I have a full toolkit, Whitworth, SAE and metric. You only have to buy these once in a lifetime. About 10 years ago I refurbed a super-special mixing machine in my wife’s (cake) factory. Apart from cleaning it up, making a belt guard and replacing belts it had some non-performing metric machine screws in it. On investigation, the mixer turned out to be all Whitworth, with metric heads. Solution: at my local hardware all machine screws are available in Whitworth as well a metric sizes.

  27. Seth Roentgen says:

    That is “Whitworth threads with metric heads”.

  28. J Martin says:

    About time you guys over there went all metric isn’t it ?

  29. E.M.Smith says:


    Time they returned to proper inches and miles ;-)

    And a proper pint too, while you’re at it… avoid the American one and worse, the 12 oz. glass…

  30. p.g.sharrow says:

    never could understand why people would want to convert to Napoleonic system of measurement. It is just as arbitrary as any other. It is the constant need to make conversions that is a real pain in the neck. Inches, gallons and pounds are something that works in my brain, meters, liters and grams not so well…pg

  31. E.M.Smith says:


    English units were sized to the typical use, so a pint of beer is about right as is a 1 pound steak. Then they use a number system ideal for fractions thus easy division.

    Metric is always wrong sized units and division is a pain. Try splitting 750 ml of wine 4 ways…or take a quart of wine and pour 4 cups….

  32. p.g.sharrow says:

    @EM: how about this thing’
    German/Russian, 100 year warranted? not sure you would want to drive it 3,000 miles in 2 and a half days Diesel engine standard. 8-)…pg.

  33. p.g.sharrow says:

    apparently a version of Bollinger B1 electric truck that looks like my old Scout without engine…pg

  34. E.M.Smith says:


    I like it! It’s exactly “my kind of truck”… other than that I want A/C and heat in it and seats that let me drive that 1000 miles of gas tank without regretting it ;-)

    Oh, and I have trouble with the idea that £ 44,000 is “cheap”…

    Because it lacks any style or complicated panels, it can be produced quickly and cheaply.

    Oh, and I’d want a roof and windows… they look to be optional…

    Perhaps instead of “Partisan” they ought to name it the “Spartan”…

  35. catweazle666 says:

    “My Ford F350 was made in Canada. Some of it was metric, some was SAE. Had to carry both sets in the truck to work on it… Worst of both worlds.”

    Not long ago, working on a British Land Rover you would find SAE, Metric and Whitworth spanners were required within literally a hand’s breadth on the front suspension/steering assemblies.

    Worst of no less than three worlds!

    The same model had brake pipes on the back axle with a metric nipple on one end and a UNF nipple on the other.


    Funnily enough, a couple of years ago I casually inquired of the man running the local shop called “Practically Everything” if he had any Whitworth spanners in stock. He disappeared for a minute or two and came back with a set of BSW combination spanners, which I immediately purchased.

    Thing is, I own a few old British bikes, including a 500cc BSA B34 Gold Star Clubman…

  36. E.M.Smith says:

    It would seem Whitworth are still in use along with some other odd bits:

    Current usage

    The widely used (except in the U.S.) British Standard Pipe thread, as defined by the ISO 228 standard (formerly BS-2779), uses Whitworth standard threads. Even in the United States, personal computer liquid cooling components use the G 1⁄4 thread from this series.

    Nearly all current still cameras accept a 1/4 in UNC thread in their tripod baseplate though the UNC is close enough to Whitworth that it will fit, and many motion picture cameras accept a 3/8 in UNC and, again, the Whitworth is close enough to fit, while a 5/8 in UNC thread is the accepted standard for tripod mounted land surveying equipment and, once again, the Whitworth will fit.

    The Leica Thread-Mount used on rangefinder cameras and on many enlarging lenses is  1 17⁄32 inches by 26 turns-per-inch Whitworth, an artefact of this having been developed by a German company specializing in microscopes and thus equipped with tooling capable of handling threads in inches and in Whitworth.

    The 5/32 in Whitworth threads have been the standard Meccano thread for many years and it is still the thread in use by the French Meccano Company

    Stage lighting suspension bolts are most commonly 3/8 in and 1/2 in BSW. Companies that initially converted to metric threads have converted back, after complaints that the finer metric threads increased the time and difficulty of setup, which often takes place at the top of a ladder or scaffold.

    Fixings for garden gates traditionally used Whitworth carriage bolts, and these are still the standard supplied in UK and Australia.

    Historical misuse

    British Morris and MG engines from 1923 to 1955 were built using metric threads but with bolt heads and nuts dimensioned for Whitworth spanners and sockets. In 1919 Morris Motors took over the French Hotchkiss engine works which had moved to Coventry during the First World War. The Hotchkiss machine tools were of metric thread but metric spanners were not readily available in Britain at the time, so fasteners were made with metric thread but Whitworth heads.

  37. catweazle666 says:

    Perhaps worth noting that the Whitworth threadform with its rounded crests and roots is much more suitable for stressed applications as the rounded roots are less likely to form stress risers.

  38. E.M.Smith says:


    I’d noticed that rounded “point”. Rarely talked about is the profile of the thread itself. Square, Triangular, Rounded, trapezoidal, or other shapes are possible. I’ve not seen much comparing the value of one shape over the other… but I know it’s there.

  39. Larry Ledwick says:

    Thread shape is discussed in mechanical engineering circles and machinists reference books.
    Only those working on highly stressed equipment like high performance aircraft, racing engines and heavy equipment tend worry about it. Also there are differences in the actual process used to create the threads and other design factors of the fastener.

    Cut threads are weaker than ground threads and cold formed rolled threads are strongest of all for a given thread form,

    See the “design” tab.

    Whole books are written on the subject and related topics.
    This is one of the very best.

  40. jim2 says:

    On shade-tree mechaniccing – I once had a car that apparently been through a flood, perhaps in water containing salt. All the bolts and screws on the car were corroded to some extent and very difficult to remove. The brake disc was shot, but one of the bolts was frozen. After others tried muscle, leverage, and flame; I got it off by pressing dry ice against the bolt head. It then came off with a little leverage.

  41. Another Ian says:

    RE “catweazle666 says:
    13 October 2017 at 8:03 pm

    Perhaps worth noting that the Whitworth threadform with its rounded crests and roots is much more suitable for stressed applications as the rounded roots are less likely to form stress risers.”

    When Packard took on production of Merlins they had to learn about and use Whitworth threads. Might have been structural reasons for that as well as interchangability of parts.

    Also one part of an airforce workshop for Merlin maintenance was an engine sized oven where they cooked up the engines. They were assembled hot and when they cooled the alloy shrank and locked the bolts.

    And on the interchangability of UNC and Whitworth – beware of half inch and 13 tpi vs 12 tpi

  42. catweazle666 says:

    “And on the interchangability of UNC and Whitworth – beware of half inch and 13 tpi vs 12 tpi”

    Reminds me of an old trick for holding old English motorcycles together, ‘BSF bolts, UNF nuts and a bloody long spanner!’

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