Toyota's Aussie adventure ends

It’s the of the line for Australian-made Toyotas. Bye, then.


WE took their first export car and quite probably also their last… but, as of yesterday, it’s all over.

The Toyota assembly plant at Altona, near Melbourne, that has produced passenger vehicles for 54 years, not just serving Australia but also New Zealand and the Middle East, has closed down, at the cost of 2300 jobs.

Soon Australia will be completely out of the car-making business that has become a turn-off across the Tasman.

Only Holden remains in the game but only until October 20. Its factory in Adelaide is still producing the VF II Commodore, but mothballing is already well under way. And lay-offs started last year.

Ford shut its assembly down in October 2016; Mitsubishi and Nissan departed the scene years ago.

The Toyota plant closure is an emotional hit for Japan’s No.1 carmaker. Toyota was the first Japanese automaker to have assembled outside Japan. It chose Australia as the site of its first overseas’ factory. Until now, it has never withdrawn from a country in which it builds cars.

Toyota built 3,451,115 vehicles in Australia. Of those, 1,245,914 were built for export, predominately for the Middle East.

The closure will have no impact on New Zealand.  Toyota here has a plan in place; it has stockpiled hundreds of Australian-made products, mainly Camrys but a few of the less-popular V6 Aurions, in expectation this will last until next March, when a new generation of the Camry comes to us from Japan.

As MotoringNetwork reported several weeks ago, this next model is a major advancement on what we see now, and will be sold here in the same four-cylinder hybrid and pure petrol formats we see now.

A 3.0-litre petrol V6 flagship will also be reintroduced; relatively low and stable fuel prices make that car worthwhile. It’s also here because the Aurion was a specifically-Australasian product. Toyota elsewhere has no need for a large V6 sedan, so has not designed a replacement.

We now know that the last Altona-made car for us has rolled off the line. It’s a petrol-engined Camry GL; the favourite choice for that type’s biggest fanbase, fleets and rental companies.  It has been shipped to Auckland.

The next generation of NZ Camrys will be imported from Japan in hybrid and four cylinder and V6 petrol forms.

The industry was doomed by several factors. Other countries build cars better and more cost-effectively. Also, Australia’s operations focused on making mainly product that was falling out of favour. Toyota and Holden did not make the SUVs and crossovers that consumers now prefer; Ford had the Territory, but shot itself in the foot by not keeping up its development.

The killer blow was when Australian taxpayers twigged to how much they were subsidising the industry. For years, the government there keep pumping cash into the business because it considered car-making good for the country. It was insofar that it has supported hundreds of support businesses, mainly suppliers, most of have also already perished or will soon do so.

But Aussies paid dearly for keeping their countrymen employed. In respect to the Toyota plant, it is envisaged that every Altona lineworker cost Australians around $50,000 per annum.

It all started so promisingly. The first unit was a Tiara (predecessor of the Corona) built by local contract assembler Australian Motor Industries (AMI) in Melbourne from a kit. (Toyota eventually took over AMI). We never saw the initial product here; indeed, the first Australian-made Toyota to cross the Tasman was the shovel-nosed Corona RT140. Then came the Camry SV20 … a much better car. Unfortunately, Aussie went onto serve anothert no-hoper in the Avalon, from 2003 to 2006. The last car out of there was the seventh-generation Camry, including – for eight years and two generations – in battery-assisted format.

Approximately 3000 people attended the closure ceremony held at the Altona plant which ultimately replaced the original AMI plant. They included Toyota New Zealand’s managing director, Alistair Davis, who also serves on the Toyota Australia board.

David Buttner, Toyota Motor Company Australia’s outgoing president, revealed that during the final few years of operation, Altona achieved the best quality and productivity ratings in its long history.

He added: “Thanks to everyone's long-standing efforts, Toyota became the top automobile manufacturer in Australia, and the vehicles produced here became a byword for quality and reliability not only in Australia but also in the world as the vehicles were exported to other regions like the Middle East.”

Akio Toyoda, TMC president, via video message, said: “I sincerely express my gratitude for the efforts of the employees, customers, suppliers, dealers, government officials, and local communities that have supported production activities in Australia.

“Although the manufacturing business will end today, we will continue to make further efforts to be an automobile manufacturer that will be loved by everyone here in Australia and be supported even more than before.”

TMCA will shift its sales and marketing functions from Sydney to its Melbourne headquarters, as it transitions to a national sales and distribution company from 2018.

The Altona plant will be re-established as a training and product development facility, leveraging previously accumulated knowledge and expertise to further develop workers, products, and services.