Is Australian boat manufacturing car-eening for fall

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  26 Jun 2013

Is Australian boat manufacturing car-eening for fall

Should the boating industry be concerned? Absolutely!

The car industry has consistently been a decade ahead of boat manufacturing in its R&D, construction, advertising and retailing. It enjoys a larger market, fewer local rivals, superior economies of scale and deeper pockets courtesy of their global parents.

They also have the undying support of a Labor Government that's thrown millions of dollars at the problem, with Minister of Innovation and Industry Greg Combet insisting that the ability for local manufacturing to design and build a motor vehicle from the ground up is vital for the economy.

Well guess what? We have the ability to design and build boats from the keel up, to the pinnacle of international standards, but if history is any indication the government cares not one whit.

The prestige Australian built marques Riviera, Maritimo, Quintrex, Signature and Seawind, among others, have all struggled in recent years, slicing their workforces without raising so much as an eyebrow at federal level. We're dispensable it seems.

So if an international conglomerate like Ford can't build a family car in Australia, how the heck can we continue to build boats? The same market threats apply – a flood of imports built at a fraction of the labour cost, a dollar that for too long refused to be tempered, and nervous cattle. Perhaps the recent drop in the Australian dollar might help a little but it will have to keep falling to make any significant difference.

New Seawind 1160 built in Vietnam that was launched on Botany Bay  Seawind Catamarans

The Seawind solution was to shut shop and relocate.

‘Probably five years ago it was apparent that Australia had a limited future as a manufacturer,' owner Richard Ward says. ‘We have a strong domestic market but we're a long way from the world market – our boats are horrendously expensive to ship.'

Ward investigated options in China and Thailand but delayed a decision at his increasing peril. Then, in 2010, Seawind acquired Corsair Marine, which was building Farrier trimarans in Vietnam, and the die was cast.

‘It was sad, this process of closing our Wollongong factory, and unbelievably difficult,' Ward adds. ‘People see that you're selling out, that you don't care about your workers ... but it's a short-sighted and mistaken way of looking at it.

‘Governments should be helping us to become a global company. That's what we've done but entirely on our own. Seawind is 100 per cent Australian owned, we will continue doing all the design here, and the profits will come back to Australia. The alternative is to die.'

The Boating Industries Alliance Australia, the national peak body for the recreational and light commercial boating industry in Australia is working hard to explain the value of the Australian boat building industry to politicians, we hope they listen.

If not, the spectre of an Australian boat show without an Australian boat, once unthinkable, looms as large as the prospect of a Bathurst race without a Falcon or Commodore.

Sydney Boat Show  BIA NSW

Right now the BIA NSW is putting its shoulder to the wheel, on the boat show front.

The 2013 Sydney International Boat Show (August 1-5) will mark the 25th occasion that Darling Harbour has played host to Australia's boating industry. As always, the 2013 show will prove to be one of the favourite attractions for Sydneysiders with 70,000 visitors expected to turn out for the venue's largest annual exhibition.

With the show less than two months away, show owner/organiser, the Boating Industry Association (BIA) of NSW, says planning is well advanced. According to the BIA, response has been positive with the recreational boating industry committing to the event in earnest.

And yes there will be plenty of Australian built boats on display but more and more imported ones.

Club Marine Mandurah Boat Show  Club Marine

Exhibitors are already making plans to attend the 2013 Club Marine Mandurah Boat Show, which will be held on 11-13 October 2013 at the Mandurah Offshore Fishing and Sailing Club.

The prospectus is now available for Australia's third largest boat show, and organisers are putting plans into place for an even bigger and better show in 2013. The 2012 Show had more than 180 exhibitors and attracted more than 18,000 visitors across the three days.

Mark Rothfield

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