Budget 2017: AU$100m for 'high-tech' auto manufacturing

The government's AU$100 million injection towards high-technology manufacturing will partially go towards establishing advanced labs for the automotive business, as well as a virtual design and engineering hub.

The Australian government has set aside AU$101.5 million over the next five years to establish an Advanced Manufacturing Fund that will focus on promoting research and development of "high-technology manufacturing businesses".

The funding will go towards establishing two Advanced Manufacturing Laboratories to support automotive parts suppliers and similar businesses; founding a virtual design and engineering hub to produce "highly trained engineers"; and extending the customs duty exemption to the importation of prototype motor vehicles and components.

It will also fund the expansion of the Cooperative Research Centres program to fund additional Cooperative Research Centre Projects targeting advanced manufacturing; and set up an Advanced Manufacturing Early Stage Research Fund to support research projects in advanced manufacturing.

Under the Advanced Manufacturing Fund, the Department of Industry, Innovation, and Science will spend AU$20.4 million in 2017-18, AU$40.1 million in 2018-19, AU$20.5 million in 2019-20, and AU$6.9 million in 2020-21.

The advanced manufacturing funding comes as auto manufacturing leaves Australia while the international automotive industry is pouring money into developing, building, and trialling electric, connected, and autonomous vehicles, including BMW, Tesla, Mercedes, Jaguar, Ford, Daimler, and GM.

Autonomous vehicles are undoubtedly on the federal government's radar, with a House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science, and Resources looking into the social issues relating to land-based driverless vehicles, as well as the Australian Parliamentary Innovations Committee currently exploring the possibility of providing separate highway lanes for autonomous vehicles throughout Australia.

Meanwhile, nearly all of Australia's states have been trialling autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles throughout the country, while the New South Wales government has been running a connected vehicles trial throughout Sydney for the last three years.

The NSW government's trials have seen it connect 60 freight trucks and 11 buses with roadside infrastructure, and will now be extended to 55 light passenger vehicles. Calling connected and autonomous vehicles "game-changing technology" for road safety, NSW has been working with the Australian government through CSIRO's Data61 on the project.

By comparison, the South Australian government announced Australia's first driverless car trial back in July 2015, completing the trial in November that year. The trial involved two Volvo XC90 vehicles that successfully demonstrated adaptive cruise control, automatic lane keeping, and active queue assist.

The South Australian government approved widespread driverless car trials in March 2016, and kicked off a AU$2.8 million trial of driverless shuttles with Adelaide Airport in March.

Similarly, the Western Australian government tested a driverless and fully electric shuttle bus in Perth in August 2016, with the RAC Intellibus carrying up to 11 passengers at an average speed of 25km per hour along South Perth Esplanade.

In November, the Queensland government then announced that it would host trials over the next four years for intelligent vehicles in order to work towards reducing car crashes, traffic, vehicle emissions, and fuel use. Queensland will be using Bosch's "highly automated driving vehicle" -- the first self-driving vehicle in Australia developed under an initiative in October with the Victorian government -- in on-road testing in 2019.

Semi-automated vehicles were then successfully trialled in Victoria during December, with the Volvo S90 driving on its own in live traffic along Melbourne's EastLink, with the state government aiming to have Victorian drivers able to safely commute in self-driving vehicles by 2018. Autonomous cars will also be trialled on Victoria's CityLink and the Monash and Tullamarine freeways in Victoria for two years.