Ford's missed Territory opportunity
While Ford has every right to celebrate the passing of the 150,000 sales mark by its large Territory SUV, it's not hard to ponder what might have been.
Even before its 2004 launch, diesel-powered mules had been spotted in both Australia and Germany, as Ford Australia pushed its case for a Jaguar/PSA-powered V6 turbodiesel version of the car.
Europe-based Ford product guru Richard Parry-Jones even confirmed the car's presence in 2003 when I interviewed him at the Frankfurt motor show. In fact, he noted that two such mules were in Melbourne; "as we speak" were his words, though he wondered then if the procrastinating Australian Government would decide whether diesel or other fuels would be favoured in the lucky country.
As a result, the diesel-powered version of the dynamically brilliant large-scale SUV didn't come to market until seven years after the model was released, and it has to be said that a huge opportunity for large-scale export was passed by as a result.
Simply, the favouring of diesel for Australia could have afforded the Territory's maker the wherewithal based on projected future sales to re-engineer the car for export markets, including left-hand-drive ones.
But it wasn't to be, for the diesel was launched only last year to finally cover the biggest weak point of the model: The immense thirst of the 2000kg-plus car when powered by its naturally aspirated and turbocharged petrol sixes.
Another lost opportunity has also come to light since the diesel model's release with the availability of 3.2-litre in-line five-cylinder turbodiesel engines for Ford's Ranger utility, a Thai-built joint venture model with Mazda that has won huge accolades around the world.
The obvious point about the five-cylinder engine is that had it been available earlier it not only could have been furnished in the Falcon, but also could have precluded a lot of expensive development that had to take place for the Territory to be re-engineered from its inline petrol engine origins into a vehicle with a V-format power unit like the Jaguar/PSA diesel powerplant.
But 150,000 units is a big number in any car company's language, though it has to be said that it could have been a whole lot more if the diesel version could have been signed off five or six years earlier and an export programme established for the vehicle.
However, Ford is celebrating anyway.
"This is a significant milestone for us," said Bob Graziano, Ford Australia president and chief executive commemorating the production milestone last week. "To have designed, engineered and manufactured a vehicle that has proven to be a hit with customers since launch.
"Territory was the brainchild of Ford in Australia and we are incredibly proud of this car and what it has achieved," Mr Graziano said.
"The latest Territory continues to be an incredibly strong seller, providing a versatile solution to our customers' driving needs."
When launched, it could be said that the Territory was ahead of its time, identifying that families were drawn to the command driving position and interior versatility of an SUV compared with a large sedan.
That has proven the right move, for SUVs now outsell large cars like the Falcon, Commodore and Camry in Australia.
"The idea for Territory began - as all great cars do - by recognising customer need," the vehicle director Russell Christophers said at the launch in 2004.
Extensive market research established a growing need for a vehicle combining the best characteristics of family sedans, traditional SUVs and people movers.
2005 was Territory's first full year of production - and best sales year - with 28,447 units produced at Ford's Broadmeadows assembly plant.
Ford launched a number of firsts with Territory, including the first Australian-made vehicle to offer Inflatable Curtain Airbags and Dynamic Stability Control. In 2005, the SY Territory development added the availability of a reversing camera to the list.
As the Territory continued to achieve sales success for Ford, the SZ was launched in 2011, with a more fuel-efficient petrol engine, and for the first time, a 2.7-litre Turbo Diesel with a six-speed automatic transmission providing outstanding fuel economy.
Ford's acclaimed 2.7-litre V6 TDCi diesel engine, was added to the range as part of Ford Australia's NZ$280 million investment in sustainability, with assistance from the federal government's Green Car Innovation Fund and the Victoria state government, which included development of the 2.0-litre EcoBoost Falcon as well as the introduction of liquid- phase injection technology for the Falcon.
We'll never know how far the Territory could have gone with diesel power had it been available from the beginning. Ford Australia chief executive from 1999 to 2004 Geoff Polites, who is known as the man behind the Territory from the start, said in 2003 that the key for the car's success in export markets would have been establishing the diesel option.
Mr Polites was so convinced the Territory was the right car for Ford Australia, that he famously placed his job on the line should it prove unsuccessful. He needn't have worried.
In fact, Ford was so impressed with his work that they quickly made him chief executive of the then Premier Auto Group, running Jaguar, Aston Martin, Volvo and Land Rover for the parent group.
Unfortunately, this rather slowed the momentum of diesel for Territory and soon afterwards Mr Polites succumbed to cancer. The Territory is a credit to Ford Australia, and Mr Polites, but it could have been even better.
- © Fairfax NZ News