Is Australian manufacturing dead?

Australian manufacturing: good news needs to be told and sold

British made motors take over Pall Mall - Top Gear

British made motors take over The Mall – Top Gear

By John Kananghinis

With the demise of the Australian car manufacturing industry there has been hysteria at the prospect that all Australian manufacturing is doomed.

This is clearly not true. What is true is that our high input and labour costs, combined with our relatively small and yet crowded market do not allow us to compete in the manufacture of large volume , highly competitive, relatively low margin consumer products, such as the average car or white goods.

However what we can do is design and manufacture high value vehicle components, niche vehicle modifications, and complete special purpose vehicles.

A little while ago Top Gear took on the myth that the British car industry is dead – this footage clearly shows that they debunked that idea.

Admittedly the Brits do have a slightly larger market and geographic proximity to many more consumers, not to mention Japanese, German and Indian money behind many of their mass or luxury market cars, but the point to be made is much the same.

All industries go through transitions from the original business model to the one that suits the times. If they don’t they simply die. No amount of tax-payer subsidy will change that.

Well, you could try, but eventually you would end up with the Soviet era shoe factory that measured success in production units only and not sales. Consequently they produced millions of perfectly reasonable shoes, only in one style and in one size and only for left feet. Job done!

Even the recent National Commission of Audit further confirmed that trying to pick winners is ultimately not a sustainable economic setting. Industry assistance should be the exception not the rule with a heavy bias to supporting R&D rather than bolstering unsustainable markets.

We do make a lot of technical auto type stuff in this country and very successfully. We just don’t tell anyone about it, or more to the point we spend all of our effort (certainly all of the news media effort) on looking backwards and maximising the doom factor. That makes for much more arresting headlines.

Almost all component manufacturers providing parts to Ford, GMH and Toyota have had a great deal of notice that local vehicle manufacture could well cease. Most will have been working for some time on diversification and often with considerable success. Of course others may have simply made the valid business decision to shut up shop when supply of components for local manufacture are no longer needed.

However let’s name just a very few of the automotive thingies we do make, and will most likely continue making well past the closure of the traditional car manufacturing plants.

Motorhomes: Brands such as Jayco, Trakka, Apollo, Avida, Suncamper, Cruisin’ and more, many exported to New Zealand and other markets.

Military vehicles: The Australian designed and built Bushmaster troop carrier is in operation with the military of the following nations, Australia, Great Britain, The Neatherlands, Japan, Indonesia and Jamaica.

Trucks: Kenworth, Volvo, IVECO and CAT all build a range of heavy trucks in Australia.

Earth moving and agricultural machinery: From diggers to harvesters to specialty machines for uniquely Australian conditions.

Buses: Most buses and tour couches in Australia are still body-built locally on imported chassis.

Emergency Vehicles: From ambulances to fire trucks to off-road rescue vehicles designed and built in Australia on locally produced and imported chassis, the vast majority of our emergency vehicles are largely Australian built.

Components, Design and R&D: Even the retreating mainline vehicle manufacturers have indicated that due to the specialist skills developed they will be keeping large sections of their local R&D and design capabilities. Automotive component makers of all sorts will continue to provide high value parts for many years to come.

Australia also makes trams, train carriages, truck trailers and even a whole lot of aircraft parts for the latest military and commercial planes built both in Europe and the USA.

The lesson is clear.

If you have a good news story to tell there is a willing audience and very often a willing partner in State and Federal Government to help you tell it. However, you need to take the lead in getting the story out there.

The bad news stories sell themselves. Good news needs skilful packaging and presenting. The resulting positive impact on companies and workers, let alone the broader community, is worth making the effort.

As part of a business supporting communication strategy, ICG has helped many companies make the most of their good news.  If you have good news there is no point hiding it, take the opportunity to add to a collective positivity index.


would your team stand the pressure test?

Crisis training: would your team stand the pressure test?

By John Kananghinis

Our team recently undertook a live crisis simulation training exercise for a high profile multinational corporation.

Part of our role was to observe the performance under a real-life scenario and note areas for improvement.

The crisis exercise was carefully constructed to put pressure on key staff to respond and act appropriately, closely mirroring a potential operational crisis.

Even though participants knew this was an observed activity, perceived pressure very quickly started to expose issues.

In this case we uncovered both organisational process issues and skill shortcomings on the part of key operatives.

These findings formed the basis of an ongoing training and procedural change program that is being implemented across all relevant divisions.

Some of the issues will be easy for the organisation to address, some will take further training and instruction.

Most significantly for the organisation were the actions that highlighted either a lack of preparedness or lack of skill in dealing with the ‘community’, ‘media’ and ‘essential services’ scenarios.

These were planning and skill-based elements that had previously been assumed as a given for people employed in a range of roles.

Even the most experienced team can gain valuable insights from crisis simulation training.

An effective crisis training exercise allows for the identification of areas where structural and training improvements will ensure far better performance should a real crisis occur.

When conducted in a thorough and cooperative manner, such training exercises have no downside for either the company or the individuals. There are only positive outcomes in terms of lessons learned and identification of processes and skills to be improved.

Pressure testing is not to be feared – it is an essential component of ensuring that a team handles real pressure when needed.

Contact ICG to discuss how we can help prepare your team for the unexpected.


2. LG No Talking

Media relations and the sound of silence – is it golden?

Like it or loathe it, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has moved into government with a firm “less is more’’ policy when it comes to media relations.

He has minimised comment on issues pressing the nation and has continued to enforce the strong discipline on coalition MPs media interactions that proved so successful in the campaign.

Given the increasingly presidential nature of our political contests, in opposition and during the election campaign it was nearly impossible not to hear from Tony Abbott on almost any issue.

But once in the top job, the sound was switched off.

The most obvious example has been a move to weekly briefings on asylum seeking boat arrivals, a tactic that has significantly reduced media coverage of the issue.

The PM himself has been accused of becoming the invisible man and his media team has closely controlled the messages emanating from the senior leadership team and other government MPs.

The PM argues it is a policy of communicating matters of substance, not thought bubbles.

Conveniently it is also a tactic that seeks to present a united voice for his government.

One view is that the minimum media comment strategy will help project a brand of government that is results-driven and not headline-focused.

This stands in stark contrast to the way Labor governed in office: it was loudly criticised for saying too much and doing too little.

The accusation was a self-obsessed government of too much talk and too little successful action.

Kevin Rudd as PM even presented an image of himself as the little Aussie bleeder, tweeting a “selfie’’ of himself sporting a shaving cut.

For now, with a government in its infancy and an exhausted electorate sick of hearing about politics, the Prime Minister’s strategy may well work. He has bought himself time – without the unnecessary distractions of endless on-the-run press conferences – to get on with the job of running the country.

Of course some issues will quickly develop outside of any government’s control, as well demonstrated by the Indonesian spying kerfuffle and even in that case the government minimised comment.

But the fact remains that there is a natural time limit on a tight-lipped policy for any government – until they have to start campaigning for reelection.

Depending on how effective the opposition is, that is when, as they say in the media game, the switch gets thrown to vaudeville.

It is likely that the Prime Minister and his media advisers remember the famous front-page headline in the Herald Sun credited with helping bring down Jeff Kennett’s Victorian Government

“Kennett’s campaign order: SILENCE’’, it read.

The paper had revealed that Kennett had gagged his Ministers and MPs from discussing policy with the press and shortly after those headlines ran, Steve Bracks unexpectedly swept to power in Victoria.

One man in Australia is probably watching the Abbott strategy with more interest than most and that would be the newly minted and media savvy Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten.

Shorten’s profile and popularity were possibly never higher than when, as the National Secretary of the AWU, he took the reins to provide the media with daily briefings on the Beaconsfield mine disaster.

As Opposition Leader, as far as the media is concerned, we have yet to see him kick into high gear.

In the meantime a few grumpy journalists being weaned off the minute-by-minute briefings, almost three years from the next election, is unlikely to be enough motivation for the government to change its current media management strategy.

ICG Auto

RMKA Auto tailors solutions for the vehicle industry

Automotive Public Relations by RMKA

The pace of day-to-day business in a dynamic sector such as automotive shows every sign of continuing to increase.

Add to this the tough and competitive nature of the Australian market and it is easy to see why many companies in the automotive sector carry limited specialist resources.

RMKA has identified a need for highly experienced key support services, both strategic and operational, to assist companies operating at all levels of the automotive industry.

The result is the creation of a suite of services that harnesses RMKA’s indepth history and extensive knowledge in automotive communication, and focuses these skills with the benefit of an equally comprehensive experience-base in the automotive business.

RMKA has identified key areas of support where the consultancy can add value by addressing specific communication, marketing and research needs.

RMKA Auto has been created to make it easier for executives in the automotive industry to match their needs to the skills and services that RMKA can bring in helping to meet business objectives.