Unsealed section

This manufacturer of off-road buggies is set for a dubious distinction

WHEELSTORIES MICHAEL STAHL

WHO’S AUSTRALIA’S fastest growing car manufacturer? You’re looking at him: expatriate Englishman David Brim, the 40-year-old CEO of Tomcar.

The Melbourne-based enterprise has produced only about 200 of its off-road buggies since manufacturing kicked-off in 2012, but Brim intends for Tomcar to be one day producing 5000 to 8000 per year.

By the end of this year, of course, he’ll be Australia’s largest car manufacturer.

“We’re the fastest growing car company in Australia because everyone else is closing, but I want to hold the flag high and be a vanguard,” Brim says. “I want to see in 15 or 20 years, dozens of companies like Tomcar here in Australia, manufacturing a whole variety of mobility solutions.”

Brim, a Londoner whose family has interests in publishing and property, came to Australia 12 years ago with the design rights to an Israeli-developed military vehicle. His main automotive connection previously was a family passion for Lotus Super Sevens.

“We were members of the Swiss Lotus Club, and every year we went to St. Moritz where 300 to 400 Super Sevens would gather. We used to go across the Channel and drive around France.

It was an affordable family holiday.”

He says he’d never really made the connection between the Lotuses and the Tomcar; the attraction of the latter was purely business. Based in Brisbane for the first six years, Tomcar loaned prototypes to outback cattle farmers for testing and development.

“It was a crude military vehicle from Israel,” Brim says. “A fantastic design, but very unfinished and raw, not commercialised in any way. So we completely redesigned the drivetrain, electronics system, and the way the car is put together. There were more than 2000 parts that we had to source.”

Surprisingly, that last part wasn’t easy.

“More than 70 percent of the content comes from local manufacturers – compared with the Holden Cruze, which was four percent,” Brim says. “But finding people to support the dream was another major challenge. We’ve been told to move along… ‘You can’t build a car in Australia profitably’; ‘You can’t sell a car on the internet.’ We’ve been laughed out of a minister’s office. Literally. Like, giggled out.”

Good thing the astute, soft-spoken Brit doesn’t seem the vindictive type. “Not yet.

When I win an award I’ll call everyone out.”

Australia, Brim says, is probably the best place in the world to develop and build a vehicle like the Tomcar. “In Australia, we have customers who have 300,000 acres; a million acres. These are huge distances, they’re travelling hours and hours each day… that really has an effect on the cooling system and the moving parts.

“If you can tame Australia’s outback, you can go anywhere in the world with it.”

Agricultural users constitute about 60 percent of Tomcar’s current customers, though Brim expects mining (currently 30 percent, with military being the remainder) to one day overtake it. Recreational focus can follow later.

“We really do try and stay true to those practical, commercial applications of our vehicle,” he says. “The future of manufacturing in Australia is niche. Now, niches can be very large globally.

“The problem with Toyota, and these other guys, was that they were building cars that we weren’t really buying. We need to start building products around what we use. So I can see a future in Australia of us leading the way in mining and agricultural equipment.

“With the passenger car industry leaving, it’s shaking things up and making people think outside the box.”

CLEVER, IN ISOLATION

How does Tomcar buggy maker David Brim feel about becoming the new face of the Australian automotive industry? “It feels sad that the industry’s been left to suffer, because these skill sets are so hard to get back. We couldn’t have set up Tomcar Australia without the supplier base that resulted from 100 years of the car industry.

We’re an isolated continent; we need advanced manufacturing in Australia.”