Future Models - Ford
Ford engine may get export boost
New life: Ford's re-born straight-six engine may find an export market.
Ford’s local I6 on shopping list for overseas makers
3 March 2009
FORD’S engine operations at Geelong, which late last year were saved by government intervention and the injection of $21 million, could soon receive a shot in the arm from other car-makers wanting to buy the straight-six engine.
Ford is also increasingly confident that the financially troubled supplier of its four-speed automatic transmission for Falcon – Drivetrain Systems International (DSI) – will survive, with receivers getting enquiries from up to 18 parties interested in investing in the Albury operation.
Speaking to GoAuto at the Melbourne International Motor Show, Ford Australia president Marin Burela said the Geelong-made inline-six (I6) engine was secure for the medium-term, and that the outlook for the operation had been strengthened by approaches from manufacturers who wanted to use the engine.
“We are getting all sorts of interest from different sectors on whether or not we would be prepared to sell them some engines, for different applications,” he said. “They want to know would we be willing to sell them some I6 engines.
“That’s a different angle on the Geelong engine plant story.”
Mr Burela would not say which companies were making the enquiries or what sort of vehicle they would be used in. “There are different groups around the world. I don’t want to talk volumes.”
The Ford chief said negotiations were in the early stages, but there was strong interest – “it’s really encouraging”.
He said that even without any export orders, the engine would “probably” be kept in service until 2015 or 2016, although a decision will be made earlier than that.
Left: Ford Australia president Marin Burela at the Melbourne show.
“When we get to 2012 we will look at it again and we will then understand where the emissions standards are heading. Then we’ll make some decisions on whether we can continue to upgrade the technology or make a change (to an imported V6).”
Mr Burela said he was also confident production of the Falcon range would not be interrupted by the troubles at DSI.
He said Ford had enough four-speed automatic transmissions on hand to carry it through to March 9, when the DSI receivers plan to resume production.
Mr Burela said Ford would prefer to keep using the four-speed unit rather than switch to the five- or six-speed units used in other Falcons and the Territory.
“We are quite happy to stay the way we are,” he said.
Mr Burela said the prospects for longer-term stability improved after the receivers had called for expressions of interest in DSI.
“When they were appointed, I thought their biggest challenge would be to find suitable investors,” Mr Burela said. “They were overwhelmed by the level of interest. There were 18 different parties.”
At least five of the approaches were from serious operators, two of whom already source some of their transmissions from DSI.
“I am getting more confident by the day supply will continue,” he said.
Mr Burela scotched suggestions that the Falcon wagon – which is built on the previous platform architecture – would be discontinued in light of its reliance on a DSI-supplied gearbox and the launch in Melbourne last week of the imported Mondeo medium-sized wagon.
“We have no plans to drop the Falcon wagon. It is alive and well,” he said. “We hit a real nice sweet spot with the Falcon wagon and it just keeps selling.
“The Mondeo wagon brings a completely different customer to the brand. It’s a younger family, versatile, lifestyle, great package selling so well in Europe.”
Mr Burela said it was difficult to be certain about the outlook for the domestic vehicle market given the current financial crisis, but he was pleased the forecast he made last year was still in the game.
“Last year I predicted the 2009 year would run at 900,000 units. I was delighted when January came in at (an annualised rate of) 917,000,” he said.
February, however, had been “an interesting month, a bit up and a bit down”.
“I think the first half of the year will be rocky, very turbulent. Our view is that in the second half of the year we will start to see more stability and I think we will start to see that in the global economy,” he said.
“Things are starting to shape themselves, but it will take six to 12 months to get there.”
Albury transmission plant into receivership