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Beeming over Barra

John Shelton: "We have to rebuild the brand and Falcon is critical to the brand."

Ford's John Shelton is confident the AV Falcon - codenamed Barra - will be up there with the best

19 Jun 2001

THE new Falcon AV with BMW levels of refinement? Well Ford is hosing down any speculation about just how good the AV - code-named Barra - will be when it hits our roads late next year but Ford Australia's new vice-president of production development, John Shelton, is quietly confident the AV will be up there with the best.

Reading between the lines, you can expect it to have significantly improved levels of NVH over the AU II and further development of its ride/handling equation - itself quite a good performer in that regard.

Some industry types may scoff at the BMW analogy but Mr Shelton is confident the next Falcon will be a world-class vehicle.

He cites a close relationship with Richard Parry-Jones, Ford's group vice-president of product development and quality. Mr Parry-Jones has openly chased BMW levels of refinement in Ford's European line-up - think Focus and Mondeo - so it is no surprise that Mr Shelton would pick up on this for Australia.

"We will look at benchmark vehicles in this market. I guess we'll look at BMW as a benchmark," he said.

His near-term goal is to produce a world-class Falcon.

Mr Shelton, an engineer, is pushing for a significant improvement in refinement levels with the new car.

Ultimately though, he sees AV as an evolutionary vehicle and is conscious of its fit in the Australian line-up and the high levels of brand loyalty with Falcon and Ford in general in our market.

Ford insiders generally accept that the AV's passenger cell will remain largely untouched but both the front and rear ends will come in for a substantial overhaul. The front-end treatment is tipped to heavily mimic the R5 concept car.

Interior and quality levels are also under the spotlight.

"We have to rebuild the brand and Falcon is critical to the brand,'' he said.

Despite Mr Shelton's optimism on Barra, Ford Australia supremo Geoff Polites is quick to reduce any great expectations with the car, having experienced the backlash over AU when it was originally launched in 1998 to a mediocre response from buyers.

Mr Polites does not want a repeat of that experience, saying that Barra was a "mid-life facelift" so it should not be considered a be-all and end-all car.

He also ruled out bringing forward the launch date for the car to stem the runaway success of Holden's Commodore.

Value packs to drive the AU through

FORD will concentrate on marketing and special value packs to carry the AU II Falcon through to the new AV Falcon late next year.

Ford supremo Geoff Polites admitted this week that Ford "would not let Holden go it alone" in the value pack equation.

Holden's Equipe and Olympic-style specials of the Astra, Vectra and Commodore are popular and consistently strong sellers.

Its Lumina-badged Commodore was also a hit with buyers.

Mr Polites said Ford had had a strong early response to its "special pack" Falcon SR and he was buoyed by the continuing success of the XR range after is brand repositioning and more powerful engine line-up.

He also said the company would throw a extra marketing clout behind the languishing Fairlane/LTD line-up by reintroducing the Sportsman version of the Fairlane.

However, there was no plan for an AU III between now and the launch of the AV, Mr Polites admitting that Ford would have to rely on being "more active" in the marketplace until the arrival of the AV.

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