Ford saves Falcon GT as Prodrive quits

VROOOM: The fastest Falcon GT to date: the limited edition R-Spec.
VROOOM: The fastest Falcon GT to date: the limited edition R-Spec.

Ford Australia has been forced to bring its performance car division in-house to secure the future of the iconic Falcon GT after the engineering firm that builds it, Prodrive, decided to get out of the market.

The changeover is due to occur at the end of the year, when 32 FPV staff will be made redundant. The news was given to FPV workers at midday today (NZ time).

Some FPV specialists may be offered contract positions as the hand-assembly of the Falcon GT's supercharged V8 moves to Geelong, alongside Ford's six-cylinder engine plant.

Instead of cars being transported in partially-built form from Ford's Broadmeadows factory to FPV's boutique facility across the Hume Highway – where the finishing touches are added – under the new arrangement the FPV cars will be built on Ford's mass-production line.

Ford Australia says there should be no impact on customers, and the upcoming limited edition GT Falcon R-Spec is going ahead as planned.

Ford says it plans FPV to be "business as usual" next year when the rest of the performance car range resumes production after the batch of limited edition models are built.

Ford also says it has no plans to change the current network of approximately 70 FPV dealers nationwide. The FPV badging and branding will remain on the cars and retail outlets.

The move to bring FPV in house was widely speculated on internet forums two months ago.

At the time, however, Ford Australia insiders indicated such a decision was "a long way off" – if it were to happen at all.

Fairfax Media understands the rumours surfaced about the same time as Prodrive expressed an interest to Ford to leave the Australian market in the wake of weaker than expected sales.

Ford and FPV had invested A$40 million in the supercharged engine which went on sale almost two years ago. While sales have increased, the FPV line-up is still selling at half the rate of that of rival Holden Special Vehicles.

The most powerful Falcon GT of all time is also yet to eclipse previous sales records set by the BA Falcon GT.

Rather than let FPV die – and with it the Falcon GT and F6 turbocharged six-cylinder – Ford Australia conducted a feasibility study after being made aware of Prodrive's sudden decision to shutter its facilities.

That Ford Australia was able to mount a rescue package within just two months is a sign of how important the Falcon GT still is to the brand.

A Ford insider told Fairfax: "While the performance car market is struggling, we still see the value in having FPV and the Falcon GT in our line-up and we didn't want to lose it. Plus, we think we can find some [cost] efficiencies that will make it more viable."

Ford and Prodrive previously had a 49:51 per cent partnership in the FPV business, but now Ford Australia will gain full control.

It brings to an end an era of partnerships that date back to 1991, when Tickford was created. It became the Tickford Vehicle Experience in 1999 before switching to Prodrive in 2002.

The FPV rescue package means Ford will need to spend an undisclosed amount of money buying some of the equipment necessary to build the bespoke supercharged V8 engines and other components.

While the FPV GT is likely to get an update when the facelifted Falcon arrives in 2014, the move to bring assembly of FPV vehicles in-house is likely to spell the death of plans to build a modern GTHO.

Ford Australia may be willing to invest to save FPV, it's unlikely it will spend the millions necessary to upgrade the car to handle the proposed GTHO's awesome power (said to be in excess of 400kW).

-Fairfax Australia