GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - Austral-ia has the opportunity to become the technological hub of Asia's burgeoning automotive industry, said Ted Lowe, managing director of Venture Industries Corp.'s Australian unit. The Fraser, Mich., injection molder placed a big bet on Aus-tralia by establishing its Asia-Pacific regional headquarters in Melbourne last year.
Lowe said other global automotive firms see Australia as a small, low-growth and distant market. But he told the Australian Plastics & Chemicals Industries Associa-tion conference in Gold Coast last month that Australia is a ``country of opportunity'' for Venture Industries.
Lowe said the firm did not establish in Australia just to supply the 300,000 vehicles built annually in the country. Lowe said Australia is Venture's springboard into Asia's 15 million vehicles-a-year market.
``Asia is the greatest growth market we will see in our careers and the question is whether we can afford not to be there,'' he said.
Asia will require 16 new assem-bly plants in the next decade, compared to one or two in North America. Japan, Korea, China, India, Indonesia and Thailand offer the most opportunities, he said. Lowe said Australia should become the technological center of Asia's automotive industry, or ``the Detroit of Asia,'' as he put it.
Australia needs to develop bilateral automotive trade agreements with Asia and take initiatives to create its role in the region. Lowe said initiatives in process include an Australian concept car, showcasing Austral-ian technology, and an auto technology park in Melbourne.
``Establishing Australia as the automotive technology hub of Asia may not directly lead to any additional export of cars, but it will certainly increase the export of components and services,'' Lowe said.
He said Australia's automotive industry is not insignificant, but needs to improve its international competitiveness. The industry has an annual net output of A$5 billion (US$3.95 billion), including A$1.77 billion (US$1.4 billion) in exports. Lowe said Australia's auto industry needs to look seriously at where it wants to be in the next decade. He said Australia is currently a net importer of auto technology.
Venture was the first automotive plastic components supplier in Australia to export design and development capabilities to Asia's auto industry successfully. Lowe said the use of automotive plastics continues to increase, providing strong opportunities for innovative suppliers.
``Cars today contain about 150 kilograms [330 pounds] of plastic components, representing about 20 percent of the weight of the car,'' he said.
``More and more parts previously made of metal are being replaced with plastic ones. Parts such as fuel tanks, internal panels, bumper bars, grilles, and interior trim panels are all made of plastic and there are already cars with all-plastic exterior panels.
``Certainly, whatever vision the car industry chooses for its future, it will have an impact on many other sectors of the economy, including the plastics industry.''