The four-cylinder engine that was supposed to be the saviour of the Ford Falcon has failed to set Australian sales charts alight – despite being the most fuel-efficient Falcon ever made.
Ford and its employees have bought three times as many four-cylinder Falcons as private buyers in the car's first three months in showrooms.
Australia's Federal Government – which injected A$230 million (NZ$296m) of taxpayer money to support the development of the four-cylinder Falcon and diesel Territory in 2009 – has bought just two of the "eco" sedans in the past three months.
According to confidential sales figures obtained by Fairfax Australia, Ford Australia and its employees bought 159 four-cylinder Falcons in April, May and June – compared to 53 to private buyers and 101 fleet buyers for the same period.
State Governments accounted for 22 sales while local councils accounted for just 13 deliveries.
A NSW government fleet manager told Fairfax that state government departments weren't ordering the four-cylinder Falcon because it didn't meet the state's required environmental performance score for passenger cars.
The four-cylinder version scores a combined "pollution" and "greenhouse" rating of between 12.5 and 13 (out of 20) on the Federal Government's Green Vehicle Guide.
But NSW state fleet has a minimum requirement of 13.5 for all but emergency vehicles.
State government fleet departments are allowed to buy vehicles below this score for operational reasons, but if they do they won't meet their green vehicle targets.
Significantly, the regular six-cylinder versions of the Toyota Aurion and Holden Commodore pass the minimum standard because they have a better "pollution" score than the four-cylinder Falcon.
This is despite the four-cylinder Falcon using less fuel and emitting less carbon dioxide than the Toyota and Holden.
Overall, the four-cylinder model made up 10 per cent of Falcon sedan sales in its first three months in showrooms, or 355 of 3448 deliveries. The LPG Falcon also accounted for a further 10 per cent of sales.
At the media launch of the vehicle, Ford said it hoped the four-cylinder "EcoBoost" model would eventually account for 25 per cent of the Falcon's tally.
The slow uptake of the four-cylinder variant indicates that fuel economy may not be the primary reason for buyers leaving the large-sedan market. Falcon sales are at their lowest in the 52-year history of the nameplate and the model is now outside the top-20 sellers.
The four-cylinder EcoBoost model is the most fuel-efficient Falcon ever made, yet its acceleration is identical to the six-cylinder (0 to 100kmh in 6.9 seconds).
Only towing capacity is diminished (2300kg for the six-cylinder versus 1600kg for the four-cylinder).
A spokesman for Ford Australia, Neil McDonald, told Fairfax: "It was always going to be a slow burn. It was always a case of getting the vehicles out there to fleet and private buyers and having them experience the car [and spread the word]."
Ford said it only planned to sell 2000 four-cylinder Falcons this year; if sales continue at the current rate they won't hit this target.
"If you look at the experience with the Ford F-Series pick-up in North America [which made Ecoboost power available alongside its V8s last year], the take-up was initially very low. But now it represents about 40 per cent [of sales].
"[The large-car market] is a very challenging segment, and we have got to keep addressing it," says McDonald.
Ford says the controversial cane toad advertisement – used to promote the surprising pace of the four-cylinder Falcon by crushing a cane toad – did not backfire, despite a complaint to the Advertising Standards Board that was dismissed.
"On the contrary the cane toad gave us a kick in social media, the ad has had [380,000] views online," says McDonald. "[The cane toad ad] is something we hadn't done before. It was meant to be a fun take. It wasn't a real cane toad."
Part of the reason for the four-cylinder Falcon's slow take-up may be that it is not available in the XR6 styling package – only the plain-looking XT, G6 and G6E fleet models are available with four-cylinder power.
"Whether [a four-cylinder] XR is something buyers would consider is something we would have to look at. But at this stage it's not on the radar."
- Sydney Morning Herald
What sort of vehicle are you planning to buy next?Related story: Kiwis like multi-tasking cars
Gear up for that big holiday drive
Tips on how to do a safe river crossing
On the road and prepared for the cold snap