The new FG Falcon may be re-engineered to ensure its future, Fairfax Australia's BRUCE NEWTON reports.
Ford's new Falcon could be headed for China and the Middle East if a renewed export bid gets the green light. And the Territory soft-roader could follow the new FG Falcon overseas if recently appointed Ford Australia president Bill Osborne succeeds with a plan to engineer all locally manufactured Fords for export.
The first significant step for Osborne is a presentation he will make to Ford's global product development chief Derrick Kuzak when he visits Melbourne to sample the new FG Falcon early next month – around the time it goes on sale.
Osborne needs Kuzak's backing and Detroit's funding to engineer the new Falcon for the lucrative Middle East and Chinese markets, which are both left-hand drive.
"We have a study under way and we will be discussing it in some detail with Derrick Kuzak at the beginning of May," Osborne says. "We think it is a great time to reopen that (export) option.
"The Middle East is one option and the large car market in China is fairly robust. I think it is a half- million (sales) segment and that's half the entire annual Australian industry. So I think selling a few in China would be one of my working assumptions."
Toyota already exports to the Middle East, as does Holden, which also sends variants of the VE Commodore to Britain, China and the United States.
However, Osborne expresses less interest in sending the FG to the US, because Ford Australia's Broadmeadows plant could only supply that market in extremely limited numbers.
If Osborne gains approval, an export programme would not start before 2010. This is because of the significant engineering effort required, which also must take into account the change to a new imported V6 engine.
Much of the Falcon engineering work would also be relevant to the Territory, making it suitable for left- hand-drive export. The two vehicles share the same fundamental architecture and power trains.
"I'd like to see Falcon and Territory in a variety of markets," Osborne says. "That is the strategy I would advocate."
He will not put a specific sales target on the export programme, only saying a figure beyond 20,000 cars annually would make a strong business case.
Osborne's pitch is the latest chapter in the on-again off-again saga that has been Ford's export plans for the Falcon ever since the BA generation was launched in 2002. Most recently, federal and state government backing for a Falcon left- hand-drive programme was announced in 2006. But that fell over last year when the funding was diverted into the manufacture of the Focus small car from 2011. That car will be engineered for right and left- hand drive and will be exported to the Asia-Pacific region.
Osborne says it is imperative for the future of Ford as a manufacturer in Australia that it becomes an exporter. "To me, the best strategy for manufacturing in Australia would be whatever you build, do them in left and right-hand drive and build multiple products in the same plant."
- The Press