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Australia is one of only a few countries with the capabilities to design cars from scratch and manufacture in significant volumes. As of February 2014[update] Australian-designed cars are made by local producers Holden (a subsidiary of General Motors) and Ford Australia, while Toyota Australia manufactures local variants of its international models, particularly the Camry.
The first major Australian carmaker was the Ford Motor Company of Australia. The first Australian-designed mass production car was by Holden in 1948.
Australia is best known for the design and production of 'large' sized passenger vehicles. This category has suffered a steady and sustained downturn in Australian markets, which has essentially resulted in the closure or forthcoming closure of all large-scale motor vehicle plants in the country. The Mitsubishi Motors Australia plant, previously Chrysler, in Adelaide was the first to close as a result of this downturn in February 2008. It will be followed by the shutdown of the Ford Australia engine and vehicle plants in October 2016 and the Holden and Toyota Australia factories during 2017.
Australian manufacture of cars rose to a maximum of almost half a million in the 1970s (10th place in the World) and still exceeded 400,000 in 2004. By 2009 this had fallen to around 210,000: Australia's car market is now primarily composed of cars imported from Asia and Europe. Despite losing volume to changing customer preferences and economic reforms, the Australian automotive industry has a significant heritage and its cars continue to attract a devoted (albeit dwindling) base of customers.
Australian constructors were very active at the very beginning of both car and aircraft development and in some areas, ahead of their overseas counterparts. Due to the isolation of Australia, it was more practical for Australia to make their own cars.
The first true cars made in Australia were steam cars. The first of these steam cars, the Phaeton, was made in 1896 by Herbert Thomson and Edward Holmes of Armadale, Melbourne. It was exhibited in 1900 using the first pneumatic tyres made in Australia by Dunlop. The 5 horsepower single cylinder steam carriage which is now in the Institute of Applied Sciences, Melbourne, was reliable and durable enough to take Thomson and a friend 493 miles from Bathurst to Melbourne at an average speed of 8.7 mp/h.
In 1901, Harley Tarrant produced the first Tarrant automobile, which was the first petrol-driven car built entirely in Australia in a small workshop in Melbourne. Before that, Tarrant had been using the shop to build engines. Tarrant was joined in this endeavour by bicycle maker, Howard Lewis. The car was powered by a rear-mounted 6 hp Benz engine. This car was followed by many improved designs, including the first fully enclosed car body made in Australia. Later models included locally produced components including: engines, gearboxes and rear axles. The sole surviving Tarrant is on display at the RACV City Club, on the chancery level.
In 1903, the Australian Motoring Association was formed in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria to protect the interests of motorists. In 1924, this was followed by the Australian Automobile Association.
Tyre manufacture also existed in Australia. However, the last tyre factory closed in April 2010 when Bridgestone ceased production.
There are three large manufacturers with production lines in Australia;
Ford Australia is the Australian subsidiary of Ford Motor Company and was founded in Geelong, Victoria in 1925 as an outpost of Ford Motor Company of Canada, Limited. At that time, Ford Canada was a separate company from Ford USA. Henry Ford had granted the manufacturing rights to Ford in British Empire (later Commonwealth) countries (excepting the UK) to Canadian investors. Ford Australia also has a performance car division, Ford Performance Vehicles, with the cars being marketed under the FPV brand. In May 2013 Ford announced that it will end Australian production in October 2016, but will remain as a competitor in the Australian marketplace with imported vehicles.
GM Holden Ltd is an Australian automaker based in Port Melbourne, Victoria. The company was founded in 1856 as a saddlery business, but later moved into the automotive field, becoming a subsidiary of General Motors (GM) in 1931. Holden has taken charge of vehicle operations for GM in Australasia and, on behalf of GM, holds partial ownership of GM Korea (formerly GM Daewoo) in South Korea. Over the years, Holden has offered a broad range of original, locally produced vehicles (such as the Holden Commodore), supplemented by imported GM models. In the past, Holden has offered badge engineered Chevrolet, Isuzu, Nissan, Suzuki, Toyota, and Vauxhall Motors models in sharing arrangements, with Daewoo, Opel, and Isuzu-sourced models sold currently. Holden also has a performance vehicle partner, Holden Special Vehicles, which markets modified Holdens under the HSV brand. In December 2013, Holden announced they would end their local manufacturing operations in Australia in 2017.
Toyota Motor Corporation Australia, or Toyota Australia, is a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corporation, which is based in Japan. TMCA first began in 1958, TMCA markets Toyota products and manages motorsport, advertising and business operations for Toyota Motor Corporation in Australia. TMCA is also responsible for Lexus vehicles in Australia.
British Leyland previously assembled and manufactured vehicles in Australia.
Chrysler departed the Australian car market in 1981 when it sold the remainder of its shareholding in Chrysler Australia Ltd to the Mitsubishi Motor Corporation of Japan. The new owner renamed the company Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd (MMAL) and this company continues to operate today as one of Australia's major importers of road vehicles. However, local production of passenger vehicles was discontinued in March 2008. During the 1970s, Chrysler began working closely with Mitsubishi Motors Corporation after they acquired a 15 percent interest in the company in 1971, with the result that Chrysler Australia begin building Mitsubishi-designed Chrysler-branded vehicles such as the Chrysler Valiant Galant (1972–1977 Mitsubishi Galant) and the Chrysler Sigma (1977–1985 Mitsubishi Galant). The Tonsley Park plant was sold to Mitsubishi Motors Corporation and was run by Mitsubishi Motors Australia after Chrysler pulled out of Australian manufacturing in 1980. Production of the popular Sigma and Colt range of vehicles continued under the Mitsubishi name until the late-1980s, when production was switched exclusively to the Magna.
Mitsubishi Motors Australia is a fully owned subsidiary of parent company Mitsubishi Motors Corporation of Japan. Its Australian administrative headquarters are located at Tonsley Park (Clovelly Park, South Australia), with branch offices in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. The Tonsley Park site was the location of MMAL's vehicle assembly plant, closed in March 2008 when lacklustre sales of the large Mitsubishi 380 confirmed that domestic vehicle manufacture was no longer viable.
Nissan Motors originally set up factories in Australia to build small 4-cylinder cars in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis. Models produced in Australia included the Pulsar, Pintara, and Skyline. By the end of the 1980s however, Nissan was facing financial difficulties and eventually closed down its Australian factories in 1992, becoming strictly a vehicle importer afterwards.
Renault (Australia) Pty Ltd was established in the late 1950s to organise the importation and contract assembly of Renault vehicles in Australia. In August 1966 Renault Australia purchased the assembly facilities of Continental and Genertal Distributors at Heidelberg in Victoria. Models including the Renault 10, 12, 16 and 18 were assembled and the company also entered into an agreement to assemble cars for Peugeot. Australian production ended with the closure of the Heidelberg plant in July 1981 with LNC Industries then taking over importation and distribution of Renaults in Australia. As of 2012, Renault vehicles are sold in Australia through Vehicle Distributors Australia, a wholly owned subsidiary of Nissan Australia.
Volkswagen Australia Ltd was formed in 1957 by Volkswagen AG of Germany and various Australian state Volkswagen distributors. The company acquired the vehicle assembly facilities of Martin & King at Clayton in Victoria, that site having been used for local assembly of the Volkswagen Beetle since 1954. By 1960 sheet metal panels were being pressed at Clayton and by 1967 the engine and most components were being produced there.
Due to falling sales the operation reverted to assembly only in 1968. A new company, Motor Producers Limited was formed and operations were expanded to include Datsun and Volvo models as well as Volkswagens. The factory was sold to Nissan in 1976 and Australian assembly of Volkswagens ended shortly after.
There are a number of current, previous or future small scale producers of cars in Australia, including;
Current or previous tuning or customisation companies in Australia include: