Premcar turns 27 later this year. A lot’s changed in the automotive industry since we started. But plenty of things have remained the same.
We’ll be a step closer to our 30th birthday this September. Creating and launching Ford’s first Tickford-branded performance models back in 1996 was a big start for our company, which later became Prodrive Automotive Technology Australia and then Premcar, as it’s known today.
The decades since are overflowing with automotive industry developments.
Cars can now read road signs, steer and brake and themselves, and even tell if you’re fatigued behind the wheel.
Instrument panels are now wall-to-wall iPads.
Even technical upgrades are sent to cars wirelessly, just like an SMS message.
It’s space-age stuff compared to when I started my career as a Production Engineer with Toyota – and it’s all brilliant.
But not everything has changed in the last three decades. Some things have remained relatively constant, and often with good reason.
Here are three that come to mind. (Maybe you’ve got a different view.)
- Chassis technology:
Once carmakers started using properly designed and resolved kinematics (and stopped focussing so intensely on packaging and costs), revolutionary changes to vehicle chassis and suspension systems have been near-non-existent. It’s the case for both body-on-frame vehicles (like dual-cab utes) and monocoque passenger cars.
There have been plenty of developments, most of them incremental, and their combined effects have brought an array of benefits to drivers. But it’s been a gradual evolution.
This lack of revolution is a good thing. It shows OEM carmakers and chassis specialists are at the pointy end of making cars ride and handle as needed. Gravity and the science of physics (as they apply to cars) are pretty similar to when Karl Benz invented the motor car back in 1886. His spindly three-wheeler used leaf springs for suspension, a technology he took from horse-drawn carriages. Funnily enough, Australia’s two best-selling new cars, the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger, still use leaf springs.
If there’s been one big change relating to new-vehicle suspension systems it’s the ever-increasing weight of new cars. The gradual addition of new technologies and expanding exterior dimensions for greater safety and comfort have made new vehicles heavier. Managing this extra mass has needed work.
Bigger vehicles (and changing buyer tastes) have also resulted in bigger wheels and tyres. This greater unsprung mass has needed careful management so the tyre stays in contact with the road as much as possible. That’s often necessitated lighter suspension materials and careful tuning. All those evolutionary steps from the last 30 years have made this possible. Another example of slow and steady progress.
- Local consumer desires:
Full-scale new-car manufacturing might have ended in Australia but many local new-car buyers still want their vehicles to suit them, despite the 380 new models the FCAI says are available to buy here.
Falcons and Commodores evolved into Australia-specific vehicles. They incorporated local conditions and tastes. And when they stopped being made, Aussies didn’t suddenly change to ‘I’m happy to accept just anything’ mode. Their desires migrated from those E-segment Large Sedans to high-riding Dual-Cab utes and SUVs.
The local enhancement programs we provide for OEM new-vehicle importers are a great example. Take our Nissan Navara Warrior program. We’ve locally re-engineered and re-developed two model grades of the Navara dual-cab pick-up just for Australia. We can’t build them fast enough. We’re expanding into extra premises. These dual-cab 4x4s win media comparisons and awards. And Nissan has extended this program to their range-leading Patrol 4×4 SUV.
The Australian automotive aftermarket also shows local buyers want their “own” new vehicles. The Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA) says its industry comprises more than 50,000 businesses and contributes over $25 billion to the Australian economy. This isn’t a niche sector; 4×4 accessories company ARB Corporation is a publicly listed company with a market cap of $2.6 billion. Just this single example expresses a lot about Australia’s vehicle-ownership culture.
Falcon and Commodore might have left the party, but local consumer desires for Australian new cars are certainly still here.
Australians want new vehicles that are “theirs.”
- Australia’s driving conditions, and how they affect cars:
The most sought-after new cars in Australia are the ones with local engineering and development. It’s a fact.
Australia’s best-selling new cars have local engineering input.
New cars with local suspension tuning are positively regarded by local media road testers.
Even local heavy vehicle manufacturers test their future products in Australia to cope with our conditions.
Australia has long been home to automakers’ confidential prototype vehicles. They’re regularly here getting punished to near-destruction in the remote centre of the country.
It’s because Australia’s driving conditions and terrain are so varied and unique.
It’s one of the reasons why Australian reviewers attending overseas media launches for new vehicles often report:
“… we’ll wait until it arrives in Australia before finalising our conclusions.”
“It drove superbly when we tested it in Europe, but its handling is lacking on local roads.”
Despite the technology advances of the last 50-plus years, and our ever-growing networks of new roads, Australian conditions largely remain the same.
When automakers develop new vehicles that deliver comfort and performance whilst withstanding Australian conditions, they end up creating in-demand, world-class cars.
They’re my three.
What are yours?
Bernie Quinn – Engineering Director, Premcar Pty Ltd
About Premcar – Premcar Pty Ltd is a leading Australian vehicle engineering business that specialises in the automotive, defence and aerospace industries. For more than 25 years, global car-makers have made Premcar their go-to partner for the complete design, engineering and manufacture of niche-model new cars, full-scale new-vehicle development programs, and electric vehicle (EV) conversions and manufacturing. As the name behind more than 200,000 new cars and 55,000 new-vehicle engines, Premcar’s body of work is extensive and has delivered technical and sales success for major car brands from Europe, the USA, Japan, China and Australia. Visit premcar.com.
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