Manufacturing decline not always as analysed

Posted on June 18th, 2016 in Economy,Ford,Holden,Mitsubishi,Opinion,Toyota by Julian Edgar

I have just finished reading a book on the manufacturing decline that has occurred over the last 60-odd years in the UK. It’s called The Slow Death of British Industry and is subtitled A Sixty Year Suicide 1952 – 2012. It covers, decade by decade and industry by industry, the decay in making things in what was once a great manufacturing country.

The industries it covers include car manufacture, ship building, aircraft design and construction – and also more obscure industries like pharmaceuticals. It describes the companies that fell by the wayside, were absorbed by others, or ended up being split into so many entities that their whole reason for existence simply disappeared…

Companies like Dorman Long (builder of the Sydney Harbour Bridge), Parsons (the inventers of the steam turbine) – and car brands like Wolseley, Triumph and Jowett.

The book catalogues in excruciating detail the union bloody-mindedness, the inept management, the worthless interventions of government, the confusion in direction and execution.

And visiting Britain’s wonderful technological museums (as I have done) where you can see Concorde; the SR.N4 hovercraft; the remains of one of the crashed Comets; the beautiful Jaguar E-type; the fastest steam locomotive in the world (the Mallard); the world’s first code-breaking electronic computers; the Sinclair electronic calculator – it makes this whole story of UK manufacturing success and decline come alive.

But there are some things missing in the analysis. They’re the same things missing in many analyses that occur here in Australia of our similar (but smaller scale) decline in domestic manufacturing.

Firstly, quoting massive reductions in the share of employment that manufacturing comprises in the economy is to miss the point that such changes have occurred in all first world countries. For example, that’s the even the case in countries like Germany and France that are often cited as manufacturing powerhouses we should be emulating.

In much the same way as primary industry (farming and mining) once dominated employment, these days, tertiary (service-based) industries now create most employment. That decline in the share of employment held in manufacturing jobs is exactly what you’d expect with greater mechanisation, use of robotics and so on. We wouldn’t want to be hand-building all our cars, one at a time, as was once done. Productivity would be terrible and cars would be unaffordable. So, of course machines will replace people, manufacturing productivity will improve and employment in the sector will decrease as a proportion of total employment.

Secondly, ignored is that the decline in local manufacturing is based entirely on a reduction in demand for those goods. If the pubic, the buyers, choose not to buy locally made goods – and instead buy imports – then of course (unless they are competitive in exports), local manufacture will decline.

In other words, to be brutal about it, uncompetitive domestic companies go broke. They may be uncompetitive in technology, in branding, in price, in innovation – in all cases, consumers vote with their wallets.

So we hold a major collective responsibility for manufacturing in our country declining. The person who blames the Federal Government of Australia for the loss of car manufacturing in this country – that is, the loss of Toyota, Ford and Holden – often has a Nissan Patrol in their driveway, or a Honda, or a BMW. The person who complains that the last Australian-built washing machine recently came off the production line is the same person who has never bought an Australian-made washing machine.

Thirdly, and as an extension of this idea, globalisation, free trade agreements and geographical shrinking of the world through information technology has increased the flexibility with which consumers can make choices. I source electronic modules on eBay from China; they’re bought from either the manufacturer or wholesaler of these products. I can remember when some such modules, able to be sourced only from local retailers, cost me over ten times as much and would take a month to be delivered.

I can very much empathise on a technological history level with the loss of once great companies, once great manufacturing enterprises.

But that’s a completely different perspective from saying that we should all have paid more for inferior goods– and so on a societal level have had a lower standard of living – to prop up manufacturing companies that had become uncompetitive.

I think that in the future, commentaries on the decline of manufacturing will appear to be as relevant as those that bemoan the fact that most people no longer till farms for a living.



I’ve driven the latest auto transmission technology – and I prefer the old!

Posted on January 13th, 2009 in Driving Emotion,Mitsubishi,Opinion,Toyota by Julian Edgar

I think that the people responsible for the design and evaluation of cars sometimes lose the wood for the trees.

I am as much as an automotive technology aficionado as anyone I’ve met. I love technology like stability control, radar cruise control, telematics and hybrid petrol/electric drivelines. I look forward to pure electric cars, to better aerodynamic technology and to exotic materials use.

But I think that all new technologies must be assessed within the paradigm of what is currently cutting edge, and not just adopted because in just one or two respects they are advantageous.

I’ve recently driven two high performance cars with transmissions that are clearly, in important aspects, inferior to what is currently available.

The twin clutch SST transmission in the Lancer Evo MR can be lumpy in urban driving, and (worsened by the over-large turbo, high mass of the car and small capacity of the engine), has terrible lag off the line.

Taming throttles

Posted on November 11th, 2008 in Engine Management,Mitsubishi,Opinion,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

A while ago in a reply to another blog post, I wrote about the current Lancer Evolution that:


“The Evo should use far improved throttle mapping where blade angle is mapped against foot position and the calculated instantaneous tractive effort value. It should also use a smaller turbo. ”


At least one reader was so excited by this notion that he wished to “quietly roll up into a foetal position and rock back and forth on the floor”. However, leaving aside bizarre responses, it’s a concept sure to interest some.


I won’t discuss the ‘smaller turbo’ bit because most of you will have a good understanding of this idea. But what about the throttle mapping?


In electronic throttle cars, the relationship between the accelerator pedal position and the throttle blade opening no longer needs to be linear. In a linear system, the throttle blade would be half open at 50 per cent accelerator pedal travel, three-quarters open at 75 per cent accelerator pedal travel, and so on.

The disappointing Lancer Evo X

Posted on October 8th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Mitsubishi,Opinion,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

Look, I am sorry to say so, but I just don’t think the Lancer Evo X lives up to its hype.

In fact, as a driver’s car, I don’t think it even lives up to the (immense) promise that drives of previous Evos would lead you to expect.

There are four separate problems.

Firstly, the engine drives like an old-fashioned turbo. That is, despite the hoopla about variable valve timing, super lightweight turbo assembly and all the rest, the engine is slow to come on boost.

In fact, the engine really only gets going at just under 3000 rpm – say, 2800. Redline is 7000 rpm so that gives you just over 4000 rpm of powerband. Not terrible, but certainly nothing special.

The giants finally stir

Posted on May 21st, 2008 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Economy,Ford,Holden,Mitsubishi,Opinion,Toyota by Julian Edgar

In August last year I wrote:

Read it again.

Less than a year later:

–  Mitsubishi manufacturing in Australia has gone broke

– Holden has said that within 2 years it will release diesel, hybrid and possibly four cylinder turbo versions of the Commodore. The company may also build smaller cars in Australia.

– Ford has released a ‘going on as the same’ FG Falcon, and then – oops, gosh, the world has changed! – announced a diesel engine version within 2 years.

– Toyota has said that they’re eager to build a Camry hybrid in Australia.

I wrote then :

The local manufacturers – especially Holden and Ford – need to show with locally developed product in the showroom that they can produce cars that appeal to more than Ford/Holden performance car enthusiasts, that they not only understand but also actively embrace the significant social change that is now occurring. Otherwise the Australian car will continue down the road to anachronistic irrelevance – it’s already on that path and accelerating as fast as its powerful and thirsty engine can take it….

At last, at last, Holden and Ford are stirring. Hopefully it won’t be too late.

Your Favourite Car Maker

Posted on May 8th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Ford,Honda,Makes & Models,Mitsubishi,Opinion,Toyota by Julian Edgar

The other day, on learning that I am an automotive journalist, someone asked me what is my favourite make of car.

I must admit the question rather stumped me. It did so for two reasons: firstly, I can’t see how any impartial automotive journalist could ever admit to having a favourite amongst car brands, and secondly, I am not even sure how anyone can logically have a favourite car maker.

I’ve owned cars made by Alfa Romeo, Audi, Austin, BMW, Daihatsu, Holden, Honda, Rover, Saab, Subaru, Toyota – and many others. I’ve driven cars ranging from Rolls Royce to Porsche to Ferrari. I’ve also driven many Mazdas, Mitsubishis, Volkswagens – and so on.

And really, despite brands developing their images based on specific advertised criteria, I have to say that the idea that certain brands have certain attributes is largely a myth.

It’s Mitsubishi’s own fault

Posted on February 6th, 2008 in Automotive News,Mitsubishi,Opinion by Julian Edgar

380-image.jpgSo Mitsubishi’s Adelaide car manufacturing plant is to close. The Mitsubishi 380, the large sedan released in 2005, has proved to be a flop.

Now, and over the next few months, there will be a prolonged post mortem, analysing the reasons why the car failed. Already, I’ve seen statements excusing Mitsubishi Motors Australia from culpability for its failure.

But to anyone not wearing rose-coloured glasses, manufacturing by Mitsubishi in Adelaide has been doomed since the very day of the 380’s release. The company – perhaps driven by their masters in Japan – made the atrocious decision to build and release a car that had no market.

And this is not a retrospective, wise after the event, summary.

Off the line…

Posted on October 19th, 2007 in Driving Emotion,Holden,Mitsubishi,Power by Julian Edgar

The week that I am writing this we have two press cars. It’s unusual to have two new cars simultaneously; in fact, it’s something I normally strive to avoid unless I am interstate for a period. Then it’s OK because those cars are usually not able to be obtained in my home state – so better to work harder for a short time in order to sample more.

One of the cars is a Mitsubishi 380 VRX 5-speed manual and the other is an automatic 5-speed Holden Epica 2.5.

Both are front-wheel drive but the 380 has 175kW and 343Nm in a body that weighs 1590kg, and the Epica has 115kW and 237Nm and weighs 1500kg.

Clearly, then, the VRX is going to be the faster of the two cars, not only because of its higher flywheel figures outweigh the slightly greater mass but also because its manual transmission has less losses than the Epica’s auto trans.

But is the VRX faster? Not a test in the world is going to show the Epica as being faster than the VRX (or the equivalent in other comparative cars) and yet as is so often the case, the power, torque and mass figures tell a story that is massively incomplete…

It so happened that my wife and I ended up in driving the two cars at the same time. I was in the Epica, she in the VRX – and in front of us a red traffic light. Both in pole position – and when the light turned green, we went for it.

Trouble is, the Epica was ahead all the way to 80 km/h…

Next red light, Georgina got a better launch – but she still took until 60 km /h to get past the Epica.

Simply, the power and torque of the 380 was so great that the traction control kept shutting down the engine as wheelspin occurred.

The same story could be repeated with lots of different cars – those with auto transmissions and insufficient power to break traction (or, to put it another way, a lower torque curve that extends further up the rev range) can be very quick off the line in real world conditions. On the other hand, manual trans cars with bulk off-the-line torque can be relatively slow.

I remember the disbelief when former colleague Michael Knowling wrote of an STi WRX that a Corolla was quicker away from traffic lights; an absolutely true story symptomatic of the STi being the opposite case to the VRX – no bottom-end torque at all…

No matter what figures might show, for real-world quick getaways, very little beats an auto trans matched to an engine that won’t spin the driving wheels.

Real world family car driving

Posted on April 21st, 2007 in Mitsubishi,Opinion by Julian Edgar

2960_6mg.jpgIt seems like only yesterday that the Mitsubishi 380 was released, but time is no friend to a car company – not when the Toyota Aurion and VE Holden Commodore have both since seen the light of day. Throw in the still highly competitive Ford Falcon and the pretty-well-just-as-big-inside Toyota Camry – and of course the highly impressive Hyundai Sonata V6 – and you have what can only be called a very difficult market for the Mitsi. Not to mention the fact that public uncertainty over the future of the local manufacturing plant has assumed almost TV soap opera proportions…

The result is not unexpected: at the time of writing, you can buy a Mitsubishi 380 with less than 10,000km on the clock for under AUD$24,000. Expect that to soon dip below $20K – and for a fearful rate of depreciation to follow. To put this another way, if you expect to keep a car for a long time (say 10 years), you can now step into a fast, excellently handling, and near new family car for what can only be described as an astonishing bargain price. Well, that’s what I think the car is.

But what’s it actually like in a family role, child seat in the back and mostly doing the humdrum duties of urban travel and shopping centres, with just an occasional longer country trip thrown in? My wife, Georgina, recently spent three weeks in a 380 ES 5-speed auto, a car with 30,000km on the clock. She drove the car with Alexander, 2, in the back. Georgina normally drives a Toyota Prius and has driven the current Sonata, Falcon, Commodore, the last of the Magnas, and many other cars.

Here are her comments.

Julian Edgar