In a recent interview, Casey Hyun, the creative design manager for Hyundai, has stated that the Korean manufacturer is planning to build an Australian car. This suggests that the industry has come full circle!
In the early years, manufacturers would ship cars from their local factories to all points globally and when sales got big enough, they would open up an assembly plant using kits from home. Then they would build a “local” car, designed for the conditions. Clearly a car built for the extreme heat of the desert would not fare well in the Arctic Circle.
As components got more reliable and costs rising, manufacturers have been building “global” cars with slight modifications for the region it’s intended for. This means that you can see a Ford or GM car for example anywhere across the world and recognise components or design features.
Now Hyundai is moving the clock back to designing a car designed for a particular region. Mr. Hyun said it was a shame that the locally designed and built cars in Australia were being phased out – notably the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore. Mr. Hyun was an industrial design student in Sydney at the University of Technology so he has seen first hand the popularity of the local cars and presumably their wane as sales declined in favour of …. Korean cars! He also completed a Masters of Automotive Design in Coventry in the UK afterwards, so he has been at the centre of the UK industry too.
When the Australian Government at the time, signed a Free Trade Agreement with South Korea, it removed several tariffs on electronics and cars making them much cheaper than the locally made products. This helped Hyundai and Kia make in-roads into the market.
The plans for a “local” car must be fairly well along as Mr. Hyun is quoted as saying that it will be a favourite of Australian drivers in the next three years. He did design the Genesis model for Hyundai, so that could be the basis for a car that is engineered for Australian conditions. He wouldn’t give away much detail during the interview, however it is clear that the vehicle will not be made in Australia, rather at one of Hyundai’s Asian factories.
So does this make it an “indigenous” car? I don’t believe so, to qualify for that title, I believe that the vehicle must be designed and built in the country it is intended for. Think about the Holden 48-215 for example, built from 1948 and designed for the local conditions despite using US components. If Hyundai wants to truly have a local car then they need to put some money into the country and take over one of the three factories that are about to close. In addition, they need to open a full design centre in Australia to continue the development – this is something that Mr. Hyun laments is missing from the local industry. If that’s the case, then he needs to convince his employer that it’s a worthwhile idea to follow.
Simply importing a car that is engineered for the local conditions is exactly what all other manufacturers do.