Unlike most pollies who stuff around with the car industry, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews actually knows a fair bit about mechanical engineering and the private sector. ACCC chairman Rocket Rod Sims knows a lot about everything because he’s been around both the public service and private enterprise for longer than Michael McMichael has been drinking Coopers from a glass. And he spent his first 10 years on the tools in his dad’s car dealership and garage. Both have had their own small businesses, which, of course, should be mandatory for any politician.
So Kazza and RR must have thick skin because every day the men in Tokyo, Wolfsburg, Hiroshima, Detroit, Coventry, Munich, Seoul, Stuttgart and all the other places that have motor manufacturers’ head offices give them the two-fingered salute. Apart from the fact that, according to the most recent records, at least four of them didn’t pay any tax in Australia (then again, who wouldn’t want their tax affairs sorted in the Cayman Islands v Canberra Island), they ignore our laws, treat independent new car dealers (who pay the government $3.8bn in tax and duties) worse than any of the well-publicised franchisees in the pizza, convenience store and motor repair industries and other small business people who have seen their franchisors done for unconscionable conduct and force most dealers to treat customers like wood ducks.
Of course, when the manufacturers go to see Kazza and RR they, hold on — manufacturers? — sorry, overseas manufacturers, they use the same arguments they did when they actually made something here. “We directly employ 66,400 people, etc, etc.” (Old PR trick here. The more specific the number sounds, the more it must be true.) No, the owners of Australia’s 3187 dealerships employ 58,000 people including 4665 apprentices. How many do you think the overseas manufacturers employ in their local head offices? About 2500 persons? Where are the decisions about dud cars made? With a couple of exceptions, some brown cardigan-wearing junior tosser in the real head office at least 15,000km away who confuses Australia with Austria tells the local dealer to keep repairing the lemon and give the customer nothing.
Now, these are the same manufacturers who sell in the US where new vehicle lemon laws make a manufacturer buy your dud auto back if it has a significant defect that the manufacturer is unable to repair within a reasonable amount of time.
This year one of Kazza’s own inquiries reported “the power imbalance between car manufacturers and their dealers, in favour of the car manufacturer, means that car manufacturers are able to impose commercial terms on dealers which make it difficult for dealers to provide satisfactory outcomes for consumers”. In a speech last year, RR said: “The ACCC has seen numerous examples of practices by a number of car manufacturers that raise concerns. We found that there is a dominant ‘culture of repair’ underpinning systems and policies across the industry based mainly around the manufacturer’s warranties, when enhanced remedies may be available under Australian Consumer Law.” Then he mentioned that “Ford has, by consent, admitted it engaged in unconscionable conduct and agreed to pay a $10 mill penalty for the way its systems dealt with consumers”. Yup, that will really hurt a company with $200 bill of sales.
So, given everyone except the overseas manufacturers agree that independent dealers and their customers are getting screwed, why don’t Kazza and RR actually do something? The reason is Australia is a party of big business and with the exception of pharmacists, small business has no power. On top of that, very few dealers will speak up publicly. At a recent inquiry three dealers were prepared to attend if their testimony was heard in camera. Maybe it’s time the dealers, who are serious players in 151 electorates across the country, acted like their chemist friends.
Bentley is remaking 12 of the wonderful Bentley 4.5 Litre Supercharged Birkins. First of all, they won’t be ready for delivery until 2021. Second of all, they are all sold so you’ll have to find someone who has bought one like investors are buying Toyota Supras on the chance they will be worth 20 per cent more after delivery. Third of all, you can’t afford one (replicas built on one of the 50 production Bentleys are hitting $1 mill). Fourth of all, they can’t be a continuation because, while they will be handmade, these dozen will be reworked from cad scans of one of the two Birkin Blowers left (Bentley owns one and Ralph Lauren the other).
And fifthly, the Blower was developed privately by Tim Birkin because Wocker Bentley hated supercharged cars, saying how much he “disliked the easy short cut provided by the supercharger”. Bentley chief executive Adrian Hallmark said “the four Team Blowers are the most valuable Bentleys in the world, and we know there is demand for genuine recreations that can be used, enjoyed and loved without risk to the prized originals”.
Closer to home, our own James Nicholls is selling a 1961 Maserati 3500 GT Vignale Spyder. Maser only built 242 of these and even less in right-hand drive. Made from 1959 until 1964, this was the only rival to the Ferrari 250GT Convertible. Prices, depending on condition, have been moving up to about $1.5 mill depending on condition. I haven’t seen this one but around a mill maybe the right money.
Finally, I often forget that, despite this column, The Weekend Australian is putting on readers faster than the old bloke can sprint up the road from his BMW service hub to the Kensi on a Friday night. That’s why new reader Robert emailed to ask what is Wart? Bob, the Weekend Australian Racing (or Rally depending on the event) Team (WART) has as its core the King of Kensi, Michael McMichael, and your correspondent. We rally a 1990 BMW 3 series that is lodged at the old bloke’s BMW service centre in Stepney Street (hence his occasional title, the Sultan of Stepney), which is down the road from the Kensi (the Kensington Hotel) in Adelaide. We pretend to be sponsored by Coopers (because we drink it) and Jim Barry Wines since Jim’s son Peter drinks with us in Adelaide. Over the years we have competed and reported in everything from Shitbox Rallies, the 24 Hours of Lemon, Targa Tasmania, the Adelaide Classic, a lot of endurance races and the Leyburn Sprints. Our first overseas event together will be Targa Newfoundland next year, although my youngest son Tom and I did a Husky event in the Arctic Circle a few years back and we still have the frostbite to prove it.