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Govt advisers dismiss post-Holden car bid

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A reported plan by an Australian consortium to take over Holden’s Elizabeth plant and continue making cars beyond 2017 has been dismissed as “pie in the sky” by the State Government’s senior manufacturing advisers.

A Victorian property development group, Ethan, is behind the proposal, The Advertiser reported last weekend.

Manufacturing Minister Tom Kenyon met with the group and told reporters he was “taking the bid seriously”.

Premier Jay Weatherill has also floated the notion that “a particular car manufacturer might want to set up here but use the equity that’s in the Holden brand to continue making cars”.

However, the government’s two key advisers on the the future of manufacturing have a very different view.

Goran Roos and Greg Combet yesterday gave the idea short shrift at an economic forum in Adelaide, comparing such bids to other “pies in the sky”.

Roos is chairman of the Advanced Manufacturing Council and a consultant to the Department of Manufacturing, Innovation and Trade (DMITRE).

Combet, a former ACTU head and Minister for Manufacturing in the Gillard government, is the State Government’s Automotive Transition Coordinator.

At yesterday’s Committee for Economic Development Australia (CEDA) forum, Beyond2017, both men dismissed the idea that any company could start making cars at the old Holden plant.

Roos compared the bid to many that were floated in Sweden when the GM-owned SAAB Auto group went under several years ago.

“When SAAB went down in Sweden there was many a person with many an idea of how to prolong that activity,” Roos told the audience of 500 Adelaide business people.

“Almost all of those ideas were pies in the sky.

“There was one idea that was exceedingly well capitalised; they had expertise in management, they had huge capital, had some ideas for niche production and how to manage supply chains … and they failed miserably.

“The reason is that one underestimates the complexity that surrounds the supply chain, maintenance issues, cost controls etc.

“The primary problem is not supply side, but demand; it’s extraordinarily complex and its extraordinarily expensive.

“It would need a proper plan that doesn’t not rely on restriction of imports or government support and a capitalisation of say, at least $10 billion dollars.”

Combet said he hadn’t seen the Ethan consortium’s proposal, but had read reports of it and had identified one significant stumbling block – Holden.

“I haven’t seen any proposition,” he said. “All I can do is repeat Goran Roos’ view of the complexities.

“What I can say is that Holden owns the site and they’ve made it very very clear to me that they will decide what they do with the property.”

The Ethan consortium had floated the notion that it could gain access to the Holden brand – a notion ruled out immediately by Holden corporate affairs executive director George Svigos.

The Ethan group of companies is based in Victoria and run by Ashley Fenn who is also the Victorian state director of the Family First Party, on the party’s federal executive and was a Senate candidate at last year’s federal election.

He heads the Ethan Property Group of companies which operate in the residential, commercial and industrial property sectors.

He has no background in the automotive industry.

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