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Burela signals Falcon change

One Ford: Ford's Taurus is the likely donor car for the next-generation Falcon.

Next Falcon may fly AWD as Australia falls in line with ‘One Ford’

16 Apr 2009

FORD will decide next year if the next-generation Falcon switches to front-wheel drive or even all-wheel drive.

Confirming the deadline this week, Ford Australia president Marin Burela virtually ruled out another Australia-only Falcon, saying Ford Australia would fall into line with Ford’s Global One resource-sharing program.

This means the redesigned Falcon will be based on North America’s front/all-wheel-drive Taurus unless the Ford Motor Company revives its Global Rear Wheel Drive (GRWD) platform development program, which was expected to have underpinned the next all-new Falcon and Mustang (both due around 2013).

Speaking at the opening of Ford’s Advanced Centre for Automotive Research and Testing (ACART) facility at its You Yangs proving ground in Victoria, the Ford chief played down the importance of rear-wheel drive as a unique Falcon selling proposition, following extensive market research by his company.

FoMoCo president Alan Mulally said last August the next Falcon would share a platform with other large front or rear-drive Ford models in the US.

The GRWD program has since been officially halted, in the same way that General Motors suspended further development of the Zeta chassis that underpins Holden’s Commodore and the Australian-designed Chevrolet Camaro.

The lifespan of Ford’s unique inline six-cylinder engine, which will be extended beyond 2010 in Euro IV emissions guise, is likely to be integral to the Falcon decision, because the straight six is unlikely to power any front or all-wheel-drive chassis. And no Australian start date has yet been mandated for the strict Euro V emissions standard, which could be expensive for the inline six to meet.

As previously reported, the medium-term future appears secure for Holden’s billion-dollar Zeta Commodore range, which was launched in 2006 and is itself due for at least all-new sheetmetal around 2013.

27 center imageLeft: The FG Falcon G6E. Below: Ford Australia president Marin Burela.

But intense media speculation has surrounded the drivetrain choice for Ford Australia’s next large-car chassis architecture, given it will no longer be unrelated to every other model in the Ford world but will again be expected to accommodate everything from new Ford and FPV sedans and utes to a new Territory.

Breaking Ford’s silence on the matter for the first time this year, Mr Burela said that while chassis and engine decisions on the next Falcon would be made in the next 12 to 18 months, Ford Australia is now definitely locked in to the One Ford strategy which aims to end wasteful duplication by globalising all major vehicle lines.

This means that development of every large Ford passenger vehicle – probably including car-based crossovers and SUVs such as the Territory and US-market Ford Edge – will be centralised.

To get the nod as the ‘centre of expertise’ for Ford’s next global large-car program – whether it be front/all-wheel drive or rear-drive – Ford Australia will have to gazump its parent company’s own engineering team in Dearborn, Michigan. If not, the Falcon family could become re-bodied versions of the US Taurus or host of other Ford, Mercury and Lincoln models.

However, Mr Burela divulged that Ford’s global vehicle development boss, Derrick Kuzak, recently visited Australia, and is said to be highly impressed with the engineering talent behind the development of the T6 light-truck that Ford Australia – in conjunction with Mazda – is working on in Melbourne.

The T6 will be the replacement of the Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50, to take the fight up against the top-selling Toyota HiLux.

This is on top of Mr Kuzak’s praise to GoAuto at the North American International Auto Show in January about the current FG Falcon series.

“We have a very capable rear-wheel-drive platform in Australia, and we don’t have to change that tomorrow,” he said at the time.

Mr Burela, who previously worked as global development head of the well-received Fiesta, likened Ford’s global light-car to a guinea pig for the development of all future Ford products under the One Ford regime.

“One Ford is important to us, and we’re sticking to it,” he said.

“In terms of what (One Ford) means for Falcon in terms of a nameplate and as a product, as people are moving into different lifestyle vehicles, they are actually moving into all-wheel drive. They’re not necessarily saying ‘I want a rear-wheel drive.’ “As people are moving into different sizes of cars based on their lifestyle needs, they are saying: ‘a rear-wheel drive is not absolutely critical to me. I’m quite happy with a front-wheel drive’.

“So there are all these different things that are going on, and I think our objectives – and the things that we are working on now from an Asia/Pacific standpoint, is ‘what does that really mean?’ “Are we able to go out there and give the Australian consumer an all-new Falcon when the time comes, and what does that all-new Falcon have to provide? What powertrains does it have to provide? What fuel economy does it have to provide? Where do the global powertrain systems fit into that?’ “All those are questions, all work is being done, and I say that I will probably be able – in the next 12 to 18 months – be able to answer all of those questions.”

Mr Burela was more decisive about Ford Australia going it alone with the Falcon replacement: “Being Australian-only would only allow us to participate only in the Australian market.

“And we have learned very, very clearly that it is important to have global reach. It is important to have global scale with our suppliers. It is important for us to go out and utilise our development resources very wisely, and it is critically important that the product line-up that we deliver fits any market in any location in the world, and that it meets the needs of those consumers and that market if we are going to be credible and respected as a mainstream provider of transportation.

“We have a source of excellence in Australia that particularly understands large cars. We also have a source in Australia that understands the concept of what a new Ranger (light truck) is, and it wasn’t so long ago … that we had a lot of knowledge and confidence (with) small and medium cars. We were in the small and medium car (manufacturing) business once upon a time, and as we are now, but in a different way.

“So I am very confident in our technical capability in Australia. When Derrick (Kuzak) visited Australia for the first time when he took over in his role as the global development head, he was absolutely delighted and overwhelmed to a degree when he saw what Australia had to offer in terms of testing and development capabilities.

“I mean, (Ford Australia’s You Yangs) proving ground is equal to many proving grounds around the automotive world – I mean the track facility that has been put in there, facilities like (the ACART emissions, environmental and engine development facilities). So it has a role to play, in the Asia/Pacific region as well as the global region.

“And that is what One Ford is all about: utilising your global resources to the best of your advantage so you can absolutely deliver the value that operating as a stand-alone you are always struggling to go out and justify investments – particularly if your market and your industry is small in terms of the global scale.

“One of the big challenges that the industry and certainly Ford has faced over the years is that it was a company that was broken up into individual little fiefdoms around the world.

“Each one of those worked very hard in meeting the needs of its own region. The big challenge was, and the big issue was, that we were investing in similar products around the world to meet similar needs and wants from similar customers.

“And one of the many things that Alan (Mulally) and Lewis Booth and Derrick (Kuzak) have crystallised in our thinking around is the whole notion of ‘the one size doesn’t fit all’. But the reality is, if you are able to group your resources, and then deploy those resources to develop a global car, and differentiate it appropriately for individual market needs and wants, you actually can deliver success.

“I was the guinea pig when we started this journey in 2004 – when the Ford Motor Company asked me to lead their global small car, and one of the first vehicles that fell into that was the Fiesta. We started work on the Fiesta towards the latter part of 2004, and today you have a global car that actually delivered on that promise.

“We have demonstrated and have proved to ourselves that we can do a three-door and a five-door and a four-door small car that meets the needs of the world – we’ve done that, we’ve proven it, and it works. In China, the demand has outstripped supply.

"In Europe one of the plants ... when almost every manufacturer in Europe is shutting down or idling plants ... the Fiesta plant in Cologne is running at full production, to the extent that they were teetering on whether or not they were to work overtime.

“How do you reconcile that? When you get the equation right, and all of a sudden you start to play in a completely different sphere. The world changes ... and we have proven that to ourselves.

“(With) the new (2011) Focus, we are following exactly the same template. I am involved in defining and helping to define the new Focus, as are my colleagues around the world. We are testing the hypothesis of the style, package and technology, through different paths of the world, and Australia is part of that.

“So ... the world has changed, it really has, and it has changed quicker than any of us had expected it to change.

“The thing I think that gives Ford the strategic advantage is that we recognised that that change was coming much sooner than any other manufacturer in the world.”

Read more:

Ford puts the brakes on RWD development

Ford’s Falcon future still unclear

Ford’s RWD future still in limbo

Ford jury remains out on front-drive Falcon

The Road to Recovery podcast series

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