Austrade Case Study, December 2015
Tomcar is an all-terrain vehicle that began life in the military before being reinvented in Australia for a wide range of commercial and recreational uses.
In 2005, when David Brim’s company bought the rights to design and manufacture Tomcar, he knew he wanted to make it in Australia.
‘Australian engineers are the best in the world not just because they’re well educated – they’re also affordable and highly pragmatic,’ says Brim.
Tomcar is a very practical vehicle, tough enough to handle rural and outback Australia. Brim established Tomcar Australia after recognising the military vehicle’s potential for commercial applications in agriculture, mining and other environments involving varied and challenging terrain.
‘Originally we planned to import the cars, but I knew we could make them better,’ he says.
Brim and his team spent five years refining and redesigning Tomcar for the Australian market, testing it in tough conditions on Queensland cattle farms.
At the same time, the team built the company itself – Tomcar Australia – from scratch, developing everything from owners’ manuals to manufacturing assembly process documentation.
One thing Brim didn’t want to do himself was manufacture the vehicle.
‘We wanted to keep the company small and agile, which is why we outsourced manufacturing,’ he says.
In 2010, Tomcar Australia partnered with MtM, a Melbourne-based manufacturer, and opened its direct-to-consumer online store in late 2012.
MtM employs 30 production engineers who draw on the expertise of local component manufacturers that produce high-quality parts, such as Tomcar’s fully welded safety steel cage and aircraft-grade aluminium skid plate.
Tomcar Australia directly employs three engineers whose focus is on innovation, research and development.
When supply chain visibility is vital
Tomcar Australia’s reputation hinges on uncompromising quality, which is why it uses a line-build manufacturing process to construct two cars a week. More than 100 cars have been sold in the past three years and there’s a two-month waiting list.
‘Australia excels at high-quality production and the benefits of partnering with a local manufacturer far outweigh the marginal cost increase,’ says Brim.
‘Making the car in Australia means we have complete visibility and control over our supply chain – right down to the specialist metals used in the safety cage.’
It’s this level of attention to detail that befits Tomcar’s military pedigree. After all, it’s designed to be parachuted out of a plane and survive.
‘In 1967 during the Six-Day War, a Special Forces platoon was parachuted behind enemy lines with their Willys jeeps, which all broke on impact,’ says Brim.
‘One of the soldiers had an engineering background and he cobbled together parts to make a few working vehicles, enabling the platoon to successfully complete its mission.
‘Years later, the soldier was involved in developing new army vehicles and his experience heavily influenced the design of what eventually became the Tomcar.’
Outsourcing to MtM enables Tomcar Australia to remain lean, focus on continuous research and development, and quickly respond to new market requirements.
In response to market demand from recreational drivers, in mid-2016 the company is launching the Tomcar Outback Racer, replete with certification from the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport.
‘We have our eye on other industries and will be launching new sector-specific models soon, so watch this space,’ says Brim.
The future of Australian manufacturing
Tomcar doesn’t operate on a planned obsolescence model – components are continuously improved and are designed to be retrofitted. It’s a manufacturing model that reduces waste and has less environmental impact than the traditional push production–model used by large vehicle manufacturers.
‘The future of business is small scale – technology enables us to be agile,’ says Brim. ‘The world has reached the point where we don’t need large corporate entities that dominate the entire supply chain ecosystem.’
Brim believes Australia has the intellectual capacity and skills to play a vital role in global value chains, manufacturing the best quality products and components in the world.
‘We may be a high-cost country but that comes with significant advantages,’ says Brim. ‘Australia has the potential to be the global leader in niche, high-grade design and manufacturing – a specialist in making items of such complexity and quality that no one can match us.’
Mark Albert, MtM Managing Director, adds that continuous innovation will play an important role in Australia’s manufacturing future.
‘When you’re part of a global supply chain you need to keep making improvements to your product,’ he says. ‘What is it your customers are looking for? What is that small improvement that keeps you ahead of the pack?’
Tomcar Australia’s innovative spirit has placed it in the vanguard of the new era of Australian startups that manufacture locally.
‘Australia has an amazing manufacturing history that we can build on,’ says Brim. ‘If you’re a designer, inventor or startup looking to give yourself an edge, I strongly encourage you to manufacture in Australia.’
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