Movers and Shakers

Key challenges ahead; how the automotive industry needs to deal with the big changes

The new CEO of the Motor Trades Association of Australia, Matt Hobbs has hit the ground running in a rapidly changing automotive industry and wants to tackle some of its biggest issues, like the NVES, head on.

NCR sat down with Hobbs to discuss some of the biggest challenges confronting the automotive sector including legislative and technological change, along with skills shortages.

With almost 10,000 members from across the automotive repair and bodyshop industries and the national representative for all the state automotive chambers of commerce, Matt Hobbs believes the MTAA is a voice that has some volume in Canberra.

It incorporates the Motor Trades Association in NSW, the Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce, the MTA in Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the NT as well as the TACC.

Hobbs comes to the role with decades of experience with OEMs, including GM and Nissan, across the globe and multiple policy advisory and advocacy roles in the industry.

Image: MTAA

But Hobbs is keen for the collected automotive bodies to be seen and utilised as much more than an advocacy body and demonstrates the depth of the resources and services they have on offer.

“These bodies give away advice as part of their membership including legal advice, advice around workplace relations and consumer affairs, industrial relations. They do publications and they’ve got technical libraries with hardcopy documents with access to service and repair information. And if you want to talk to an expert, the MTAA has these people.

“We’re also at the coalface helping people, improve their businesses, helping them get a pipeline to skilled people,” he says.

“They’re registered training organisations and they also have over 7000 apprenticeships across the industry. They have also got nearly 1400 directly employed apprentices, they either directly train or they mentor depending on the state. They give people a pathway into the industry and for me that’s amazing. We’re relevant because we’re out there. I think Victoria has got 40 people in cars every day out talking to businesses, helping them solve their problems.

“So, the membership is so much more than the advocacy. The advocacy is what happens because of the membership.”

Solutions for big changes

Hobbs is quick to highlight how many transformational changes face the industry and what the MTAA can
do both in consulting and informing members, along with ensuring this industry voice is strong and meaningful at a policy maker level.

He cites the New Vehicle Efficiency Standard, the franchising code, the skills shortage, the MVIRI Code of Conduct and the EV transition as just a few of the areas that are undergoing major change.

While Hobbs remains solutions focussed, he is not blind to the problems the industry is facing and highlights the long-running issues between repair workshops and insurers. The history of the issue has become acute recently and thrown into the spotlight by the problem of delays in assessments hampering both workshops and insurance processes.

The MTAA is advocating for Matt Hobbs believes proactive adaptation as an industry can help in a time of massive change of a mandatory Code of Conduct nationwide, (currently only compulsory in some states), as one of the key instruments for reform and a government appointed ombudsman to swiftly resolve disputes.

Hobbs highlights the substantial work Stephen Jenkins, chair of the Code Administrative Committee, Kaes Cillessen from the MTA SA/NT and Kathy Zdravevski policy advisor with the VACC, have done in developing the MVIRI Code of Conduct as a robust document since its 2022 review.

“If we can’t mandate it and resource it properly, it will never reach its full potential,” he says.

“It’s got to have teeth. It’s got to be a viable, funded organisation that has an alternative dispute resolution programme that works. Unless we start doing things differently, we just relive the last 30 to 50 years of problems constantly. And there are tools in the arsenal, whether that’s collective bargaining, whether that’s unfair contract terms, but for a local business that’s just trying to get stuff done and serve their customers, they just want the problem fixed.”

“And that’s the challenge, whether it’s the committee or it’s me or the CEOs in the MTAs, or ultimately, the insurers and their representatives. We’ve got to work it out. The status quo isn’t good enough, whether it’s five-month delays, whether it’s a whole lot of other issues and behaviours that happen but ultimately, consumers aren’t getting the cars fixed.

“The small and family-owned businesses that are in our sector are at a structural disadvantage. So, getting that balance back is critically important.”

He believes the industry needs to find these solutions collectively and where appropriate for government to take the steps to make them happen.

Big changes ahead

Hobbs said a recent prescheduled meeting in Canberra to discuss the Franchise Code meant they could discuss and get some leverage on many of these issues.

Among the major changes the MTAA is pushing for in changes to the Franchise Code are that the protections offered to dealers should be applied to franchise automotive aftermarket repairers. It also wants the code to recognise the right of dealers to compensation for established goodwill, along with a minimum five-year term for their dealer agreements to provide greater certainty.

But at the forefront of the MTAA’s advocacy, was the federal governments proposed New Vehicle Efficiency Standard and involved more than 40 meetings with government, yielding some key concessions that were major wins for the automotive industry.

Hobbs believes the scheme is such a critical and transformational change to the whole automotive industry, from manufacturers to repairers, the sector needs to approach it in a nuanced and evidence-based approach. Putting aside the complexities of the predicted outcomes or the multi-layered politics, Hobbs sums up the magnitude of the change ahead for the repair industry in one figure.

“In the next five years the repair industry is going to have to be ready for 146 different EVs,” he says. “And that’s the ones that we can forecast and already know about. That’s why it matters because the repairers are the ones who are going to have to fix them.

“The NVES is the largest structural adjustment that this industry will face, even bigger than the change that happened when manufacturing ended in Australia because it actually impacts everybody, as opposed to just the OEM, their employees, suppliers and dealers. This really impacts everybody all the way through the chain.”

Hobbs is a self-confessed ‘geek’ on fuel efficiency standards and even has a picture of him signing a pioneering agreement in Saudi Arabia ten years ago to highlight that experience.

The MTAA has acquired comprehensive data on the potential impacts of the NVES over the next ten years and the complex variants car manufacturers could employ to meet its demands, such as range and model variations, new technology as well as buying credits under the scheme. Hobbs explains this has given them a truer picture of where the companies stand in 2025 and 2030, the key milestone dates for the emissions scheme. With this evidence they are pushing for Option B in the government’s proposal with some elements derived from Option A.

The new CEO of the Motor Trades Association of Australia, Matt Hobbs has hit the ground running in a rapidly changing automotive industry.
Image: vichie81/

One of the big gains for the industry has been a last minute concession by the government to recategorise some large SUVs into light commercial vehicles. A “huge win’ according to Hobbs that will reclass 12 models or more than 88,000 vehicles under the proposed scheme.

“The MTAA commends the Australian Government for their approach and appreciates the seat at the table throughout these critical discussions,” Hobbs said following the release of the legislation in late March.

“Working side-by-side with the Government has provided MTAA members with a leading voice into this policy – the result being a program that better reflects the country’s love of utes and SUVs while preparing for an EV future.”

The MTAA has been working with the government on the legislation to establish a workable scheme that will also reach the proposed targets.

The MTAA also wants the stringency and target adjustments of the scheme adapted so it is closer to the US approach on vehicle air-conditioning emissions, making it a more realistic assessment of total emissions. It also wants a similar flexible scheme for credit generators that OEMs can take into account in their future planning.

“So learn from the US,” Hobbs says.

“You have got to have enough commodity to trade or otherwise the price for credits will be almost the same price as the fines. There’s no shock absorber in the system.”

In addition, Hobbs says the government needs to ensure there is regular twice yearly check in with the industry and on its impact to avoid unintended consequences and remain flexible to solutions.

“You need to publicly tell everybody what’s happening every six months,” Hobbs says. “And then in the two-year review, you’re going to have the ability to say whether it’s going as you thought it would, or whether you’ve got to adjust to incentivise car companies and to make sure that the cars that people need for their everyday use are still available.”

Finally, the MTAA is also pushing for adaptation of the Australia’s design rules that need to be looked at to remove complexity and free up OEMs to import a wider range of models that in turn will help the manufacturers meet the emissions targets.


But the focus the government has on major change in transport is also a chance for the automotive industry to grab hold of the possible opportunities to help build its own future in thi

s transition, Hobbs says.

The MTAA has been focussing on ensuring they have access to the new energy apprentice program, along with new programs for upskilling.

The potential for campaigns to attract people to automotive careers, an EV Green Card and appropriate skilled migration are also key areas of government action that could actively help in answering some of  the skills gaps in the industry.

Hobbs believes public charging infrastructure is another area governments will have to invest heavily in to meet the changing demand and they must ensure the network and individual chargers are operational and efficient.

But as a practical example of how governments can adapt to meet the upsurge of EV ownership, the MTAA is pushing for capital grants to install EV charging infrastructure at dealerships and repairers.

“If you’re going to have a huge penetration of vehicles that are plugged in, you need to have chargers, whether they’re slow chargers in the workshop, or a fast charger out front that you and your customers can use. But when you’re shut that people can come and use, such as Uber drivers can come in and charge. Often dealers and repairers are in really prominent places and they’re good locations for chargers. And maybe there’s a revenue opportunity for those businesses as well.”

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