The Australian automotive industry dates back to 1896 when the first car was made in Melbourne. The manufacturer used pneumatic tires that were also Australian-made. That car was equipped with a steam engine. Five years had passed before the Australian car makers presented a petrol engine vehicle that was made entirely from domestic parts. Such economic independence was due to the geographical position of Australia. Being situated far from the economically developed countries, the Australian market was in a favorable position in the beginning.
Yet, with time European and American car brands came to the remote continent to establish their subsidiaries there. Until recently the most prosperous companies on the Australian continent were Holden, Ford and Toyota.
The full name of the company is GM Holden Ltd. It was set up in 1856 by an English emigrant James Alexander Holden. At first it produced saddlery. Then the owners changed the line of business. They started repairing automobiles, went on to produce vehicle body shells and from 1931 to 2017 they built cars as a subsidiary company of American General Motors.
The most successful period for the brand was the 1950s. Cars were in great demand at that time, and Holden not only managed to meet it but also held the leading position in the domestic market. Their brand-new product was a trayback passenger vehicle which was called “Ute” in Australia. The car performed well on the Australian rough roads and immediately gained popularity among consumers, being the best-selling road vehicle at the time.
Besides Ute the company’s range of all-Australian cars included Commodore and Caprice. It also practised badge-engineering.
In 2017 the parent company had to close its plant in Australia. Sales have declined. The fact is that people’s interest in the large passenger cars produced by GM Holden has decreased recently. Consumers’ tastes have changed. They want small cars with lower fuel consumption.
At present Holden operates as an importer and seller of GM cars.
Ford is known as an American company but it had a unit in Australia in the city of Geelong. In 1925 the first car came off the assembly line of Ford Australia that had become an associated company of the American giant.
Initially the subsidiary assembled Model Ts. The knock-down kits were made in Canada. In 2016 the range of vehicles produced by Ford Australia included 16 models. These were SUVs, small, family, performance cars and commercial vehicles.
But the company’s calling card was Falcon. Of all the models made by Ford Australia it used to have the most widespread reputation. The company had produced it for 56 years, and it speaks for itself. Falcon was designed as an American car, but when it was brought to Australia it underwent changes so as to meet the country’s requirements and to be adapted to the local roads. By 1972 the car had acquired a completely Australian design.
Unlike other automobile companies that purchased engines for their cars, Ford Australia produced its own ones.
After several decades of growth in demand and production increase, the company encountered considerable financial losses which necessitated the shutdown of its manufacturing arm in 2016. Ford Australia is to continue its activities as an automotive designing center.
The Japanese manufacturer founded its subsidiary in Australia in 1958. The subsidiary production unit is known as Toyota Motor Corporation Australia. Its enterprise in Port Melbourne had assembled Toyota vehicles for twenty years, and then a new manufacturing zone was built to make gearboxes and engines.
The company started with the Toyota Tiara. Then they focused on many different models including Corona, Aurion, Camry and others. 1992 was a significant year for the company ‒ one million cars had been manufactured by that time. It took the subsidiary ten years to make another million. In 2010 they launched the Camry Hybrid.
When the demand of the domestic market for cars was met, Toyota Australia started exporting its products. The first export delivery was in 1986. By 2006 the export sales had reached 500 thousand cars. That was the time when Toyota Australia surpassed Holden in sales and became the best-selling brand in the country. But economic hardships came upon this manufacturer as well. In 2017 it ceased its production in Australia. Now the company deals with marketing Toyota products in Australia.
Other Car Brands
The list of Australian car brands is not confined to these names. There are numerous minor manufacturers such as Bolwell, Classic Glass, Elfin, Nota, PRB (all of them are makers of sports cars), Birchfield, Finch and Python that specialize in making replicas of different models and others.