Let’s combine two facts and see where that takes us:
Fact 1: Our car manufacturing factories are closing down. Their multi-national owners are falling over themselves to desert our shores. All our car manufacturing workers, engineers, vehicle designers, and component add-on personnel are scrambling about for any sort of new employment or manufacturing opportunity.
Fact 2: On 12 June 2014 Elon Musk, the CEO of the Tesla Motor Company in the US released a media statement. And this is what he had to say:
“Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”
The combination of those two facts begs a very obvious question. How come we aren’t building little electric buzz-boxes in our soon to be defunct car factories, and exporting them by the millions to China, India, and to anybody else who wants them?
As an innovation nation (according to our politicians) how come we aren’t scaling down Musk’s technology from his expensive Model S Electric Sedan and fitting it into a much smaller and cheaper Hyundai sized two or four door electric hatch?
But what would happen if we did? Well, our politicians would certainly leap onboard like lemmings and sprout the wondrous job creation opportunities that such a re-tooling of our car manufacturing factories would represent. Unfortunately they’d be dead wrong, and they’d totally miss the point, because hardly any jobs would flow if we innovated ourselves down this path. It is not about jobs, it is about the creation of Sovereign Wealth.
The only way we could export small electric vehicles to Asia from our newly re-tooled factories would be if those factories were almost completely automated. In other words robots would have to build the cars. The vehicles would need to be stamped out like cheap green widgets in order to keep the costs down to about $15,000 per vehicle. A huge economy of scale would need to be the underlying principle.
But would we realistically be able to do any of this?
Well I for one believe that we have many intelligent and innovative people here in Australia. I believe that we have the engineering and manufacturing smarts to scale down Musk’s electric vehicle technology and bang out a small exhaust-less buzz box which would happily sail around Asia’s incredibly crowded and polluted streets by the millions. They could sail around our city streets as well.
Many people will say that if it does not create a huge number of jobs for our populace then it is probably not worth doing. I so disagree with such thinking because a manufacturing challenge like this is about creating sovereign wealth for our nation, it is not about making even more dollars for those who are already awash with the stuff.
I am suggesting that the Government step in, take over or buy the factories before they totally disappear, and manufacture these small electric vehicles under a nationally owned enterprise. I am suggesting that we break with the kind of tradition that saw us woefully blow the sovereign wealth generated by the last two mining booms.
And what are the benefits if we are quick enough to take Musk up on his offer?
- Sovereign wealth for our country. The current argument that we can all be re-trained up to rocket-scientist ‘future jobs’ level is just so much facile political hogwash. We will need this sovereign wealth because the nature of work is changing fast, automation and AI are going to put many more of us out of work, and we will soon need some variety of Universal Basic Income which will need to be sourced out of a healthy sovereign wealth fund.
- Saving our global environment. Compare the benefits of millions of small non-polluting electric vehicles whizzing about Asia’s mega-cities against the current air/climate killing effects of millions of internal combustion engined vehicles whizzing about the same streets. Instead of just talking hot air about the need to do something about climate change – we could actually do something. Australia could actually do something on a grand scale.
I see this Musk (Tesla) offered opportunity as beyond political. At best I would like to see our politicians from all sides pull solidly behind this idea, and at worst, I would like them to at least not get in the road of it. Perhaps South Australia would be a tad interested in the venture?
And … as we all know … opportunity only ever knocks once!