After being entertained for the last couple of weeks by Germany v France over Mercedes' choice of air conditioner refrigerant (colleague Simon Warburton has now learned so much about R134a v r1234yf he can probably get a job as an industrial chemist), my eye this week was caught by some industrial relations news, or, as it used to be known in the bad old British Leyland days, 'manage-mint v the workers'.

First the good news. Faced with pretty much a take it or leave it deal, as in 'agree new terms and conditions or the plant shuts years earlier', unionised workers at General Motors' Holden plant in Adelaide agreed a variation to their current enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA). This includes changes to shift and hours arrangements and the giving up of a guaranteed 3% pay rise in November, and will only come into effect if Holden commits to building new generation cars beyond 2016 (the year rival Ford closes its local factories) to 2022.

Effectively, it's a six-year stay of execution for a plant whose manufacturing efficiency and cost is much challenged in the changed conditions in Australia and the neighbouring ASEAN region. Essentially, currency exchange rates and other factors like lower import duty rates means it's now cheaper to make cars in the giant new plants in Thailand and ship 'em down under the free trade agreement with Oz. All credit to the union and Holden for getting round a table and keeping people in work for a few more years despite an apparent complete lack of interest by the federal government in preserving local car manufacturing. Quite a contrast to markets like Brazil and Russia where free trade takes a back seat in favour of policies that encourage investment in assembly and supplier plants and all the associated benefits they bring.

Also in contrast was the attitude of the bolshie unions at Hyundai in South Korea. Despite the automakers increasingly muttering about the rising cost of making cars in Korea, Hyundai's rising shift of production to places like US, Europe and China, and GM now talking openly of shifting Chevrolet output away eventually, Hyundai's unionists are again taking a hard line over the latest round of pay talks, just a year after their costliest strike in history.

And there's been some niggle in South Africa, too, starting with BMW workers off the line in protest over pay and 3-series production hit by well over a 1,000 units and counting. As we report today, this now looks like it will blow up into an industry-wide battle from Monday.

Also this week, I've been reminiscing (again) about 60s American cars as Audi continues to electronically update an old but good idea. And I've finally got around to having a go in a Skyactiv Mazda.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor,

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