Ford, General Motors, and Toyota have pulled the pin on us and tens of thousands of Australians are about to be dumped on the job scrap heap. Workers in our car factories are about to be booted out the door and workers in the car component add-on industries are about to have the same experience as well. Instead of moaning about it all over our mutton stew there actually is something that we, as a nation, can do to turn this situation around to our decided advantage.
When we look back in time the date of June 12 2014 may well prove to be one of those seminal moments in Australian history. One of those moments in time that led us to grasp the opportunity to mould our economic destiny for more than just the foreseeable future.
But what was it that happened on that date? Well … on the surface it was something pretty simple. 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.
So there you have it. The intricacies of Tesla’s electric vehicle technology is laid bare for all who, in good faith, want to use it.
And personally I don’t care if, as some motoring pundits have lately intimated, that Elon is simply a class A businessman who sees a great future in every manufacturer picking up on and buying Tesla’s lithium ion batteries. Good luck to the gent if that one plays out to his satisfaction because I for one would like to see an off-griddable version of that battery hanging off every suburban garage wall.
BUT HERE’S MY VISION. And I’m more than happy for our visionless politicians to pick it up and run with it and claim it as their own idea. I’d be more than happy if they did that.
We have soon to be defunct car factories that are full of machines that manufacture cars. We have vehicle design engineers who have not yet in force joined the brain drain and left our shores. We still have a vehicle component add-on industry. In other words we have all the necessary ducks in a row to produce an all-Australian electric vehicle.
We also have open source access to Tesla’s Model S all-electric vehicle technology. The Model S has a range of 500klm before a re-charge is needed and it is a luxury Commodore sized sedan. But I am not suggesting that we build a Commodore sized electric vehicle. I am suggesting that we build the smaller Whitlam SJ Model all-electric vehicle right here in Australia.
The Whitlam SJ Model would be a small sedan or hatchback, about the size of a Hyundai or Golf, and mainly designed to cater to the transport needs of city dwellers. And let’s face it, most of us here in Australia live in cities. And most of us are lucky enough not to have to rack up anything near 500klm of commuting time in a week. And how many large sedans and SUVs do we really need frustratingly blocking our line of sight at intersections?
Our design and electrical and mechanical engineers would have to down-scale Tesla’s technology to fit into the Whitlam’s smaller body space. That’s a given and it can be done. This is one of those wonderful cases where the ‘size does matter’ brigade will be left weeping in their soup.
So let’s imagine that we are producing the Whitlam SJ Model and that we are flogging it off as cheaply as we can. At the moment we can pick up a small internal combustion powered commuter buzz-box for $15,000 to get us from A to B in our cities. We use the term buzz-box because those small internal combustion engines whine along and produce that annoying high compression buzzing sound. Makes it hard to hear the best of Led Zep unless you crank up the sound system to the max.
The other annoying thing is that you have to pay the multi-nat energy companies money to fill the fuel tank of the buzz-box with petrol.
The Whitlam SJ Model gets us around all of those annoying facts. Electric motor technology is whisper quiet. You don’t hear the car coming engine or exhaust wise – all you hear are the tyres on the road. But much better yet – the Whitlam SJ Model will allow us to give the terminal wave-off to all of those multi-nat energy companies who always seem to jack-up their fuel costs just before we all hit the road on the first day of our Easter holidays.
The Whitlam SJ uses electricity as a locomotive fuel. We can continue to pay the multi-nat electricity providers over the top prices for their volts or we can go fully off-grid and give the electricity suppliers a solid wave-off too.
So here’s some positive facts. The Whitlam SJ Model is quiet; it produces no exhaust emissions; it will handle your week’s worth of city commuting; it frees you from a very expensive reliance on multi-nat fuel providers if you go fully off-grid; and you’ll probably end up waggling a very independent finger at energy companies and the government … mmm, think about that one!
Right at about this moment all the negative naysayers, and most of our politicians, will kick in with all of their reasons why none of this will ever work. Run a good idea past them and they will expend an inordinate amount of energy and hot air in tearing that good idea totally apart … that is kind of their lemming auto-default mode.
Firstly they will demean the off-grid concept. Both the government (who loves coal) and the energy companies (who want to keep you firmly within their financial grasp) will fully disparage any effort by any citizen to be totally energy self-sufficient. By going fully off-grid and charging up your Whitlam at home you will be cocking a snoot at all the vested interests who want to maintain their lucrative conduit to your wallet … and they will do everything within their power to stop you.
They’ll also throw in that while running the Whitlam around in the city is all well and good you’ll hit huge problems once you get out on to the national highways because Servos don’t have power charging outlets. So I say … we only need Motels to have those power-charging outlets don’t we?
After that they will say that Toyota is about to release their first fully hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicle so why bother building the Whitlam SJ Model at all. The Toyota vehicle has great range and farts nothing but water out of the exhaust pipe. All of that is quite true. It will probably prove to be a great vehicle. But if we buy one of them we are simply guaranteeing that we will remain wedded to the fuel supply chain of the energy-providing multi-nats. You’ll still have to pull into the Servo and buy your hydrogen from them won’t you? They’ll still have you by the short and curlies won’t they?
Then they’ll say that because the Australian market for vehicles of any type is so small it simply wouldn’t be economic to produce the Whitlam SJ here and that we wouldn’t sell enough of them to Australians to make the whole enterprise economic. In that regard I would fully agree with them … but then … politely and in simple easy to understand language of course … I would gently point out that the major market for the Whitlam SJ Model was never, and could never be, the Australian market. The Australian market would be an add-on.
Even a rocket scientist could tell us that the Indian and Chinese middle classes, all those hundreds of millions of middle class type big city commuters, are probably looking around for a viable alternative to the hundreds of millions of air-fouling buzz-boxes that they are currently using to flit about from A to B in their grandly polluted cities. That, to put it bluntly, is where the market is.
And here’s where truth and common sense kick in because the Whitlam SJ Model will not save tens of thousands of Australian jobs in South Australia or anywhere else across the country.
To reach the economy of scale required to supply the vehicle demands of the Asian market our Whitlam SJ Model car manufacturing factory would need to be just about fully automated. It would need to crank out the Whitlam like widgets … huge in volume and cheap in price. It would need to do to the Asian market what the Asian market has happily done to us for decades … provide a good sound little vehicle at a cheap price. We would have to out-Hyundai Hyundai. But we could sell an awful lot of cheap sound little Whitlams in Asia by my reckoning.
We would also need to think on a national scale.
Automation is already pushing a lot of our jobs out the window. That process will continue and only accelerate. Google the term ‘a basic income guarantee for all’ and you will see what I am getting at here. As a nation we need to figure out a way to not only produce wealth … but we also need to figure out how we can distribute that wealth equitably amongst all our citizens.
The Whitlam SJ is not designed to produce wealth for the already wealthy … it is designed to produce wealth for We, The People. It is up to us to ensure that our politicians get that message.
So there you go. Elon Musk of Tesla has basically said “go for it if you are replete with bravery, guts, and good faith”. It begs the question … as a nation, are we replete with bravery, guts, and good faith?
As a rider to all of the above … you are probably wondering what the SJ in the Whitlam SJ Model stands for.
It stands for Social Justice of course. And there is a delicious irony in the thought that if we adopt SJ as a national mindset, not only in the car manufacturing sphere, but also across the tendrils of our political landscape … such a move could very well prove to be the making of a more modern and equitable Australia.
How good would that be?