May 26, 2013

The End of the Ford Falcon

Big companies have responsibilities to their communities, especially when they have provided jobs for thousands and custom for other businesses for so long that families and towns identify with them.

Ford is meeting those responsibilities, from what we know so far.

Ford Australia has been operating in Geelong since 1926. Ford cars have been a huge part of the Australian landscape since then.

by Hugo90 via Flickr

by racin jason via Flickr

by Highway Patrol Images via Flickr

Every big corporation makes bad decisions. Every US head office of every multinational has misjudged  their overseas markets and kept business going when they shouldn't have or pulled the plug at the wrong time or failed to take the local conditions and culture into account. That's global capitalism, and it's part of the pay-off we accept in return for jobs, markets, economies of scale, choice and convenience.

Ford has given its workers three years' notice and will I am sure provide good redundancies and assistance with training or job search.

Not that that doesn't mean that the next few years won't be awful for Ford workers. They will.

But the news of Ford's closure here has been greeted by most with a sort of sad inevitability. Even its workers were "shocked but not surprised".

Most people understand that manufacturing is increasingly difficult here. Few of those who commented agreed with this angry rant in The Age, for example. We all see what has happened over the years to manufacturing - and to cars. The days of the big corporate fleets and the big family sedan are over. Most people accept Ford's statement that manufacturing their cars in Australia is no longer affordable.

So what of the government's propping up of the car industry here with stimulus and assistance packages?

Well, there were reasons for those.

Firstly, while it's logically a waste of money to prop up losing industries, in practice it's not that simple. Whole industries can't just be cut off and left to fail without causing massive upheaval economically and socially. It's not just politically unsound to let that happen, it is wrong.  So all reasonable governments end up spending too much on losing deals propping up failing industries, and are no doubt as irked at having to do so as the public are at having to bear the cost. (Though of course, the actual cost to any non-involved individual is close to nil, while the benefits of not having a huge industry suddenly fail are real).

Secondly, post-GFC, all governments in a position to do so threw money at stimulus programs to keep the economy moving, and that included much dubious spending, because the spending was more important than the product, at that time. No one was especially happy at propping up car manufacturers during this period, especially in the US where the government had already suffered the political fallout from propping up banks, and where the car company reps flew to Washington for their bailouts in their private jets.

But that's how it all works.  Otherwise we'd be Greece.

Until 2011, I too worked for a US multinational, and I was made redundant after long months of uncertainty, stress and misery. The packages were good (not as generous as they had been in the past, but times had definitely changed), and the company provided a career counselling service which gave employees resume help and access to office space for a month.

I was not in the same industry as the workers facing redundancy at Ford. I was lucky to get another job in the same industry working with people and a company I knew well. So I don't pretend to be in the same boat. But say what you will about multinationals (and most of what you say is justified) - at least they are big enough to provide entitlements and protection to workers. Unlike small businesses, which tend to leave workers stranded when they go under.

I have quite fond childhood memories of being driven around in Ford sedans. My dad and grandfather loved Ford cars, and in the seventies my parents drove a Cortina, a Falcon, a Fairlane, and memorably in America, a huge Lincoln Continental.

The family sedan was good for Sunday drives to the Dandenongs and for family holidays. We drove to the Central Coast in New South Wales or the Gold Coast in Queensland, epic two or three-day family journeys involving car sickness, counting games, roadhouse stops, seat belts chafing against childhood necks, sweaty backs sticking to vinyl seats, and my sister and me sleeping with pillows propped against the armrest while we sped through the night.

My dream car when I was a kid was the red and white Ford Gran Torino in Starsky and Hutch.

But those days are long gone. No one wants a sedan any more, and no one can afford to make them in this country.

by aidenjewell via Flickr

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