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Detroit show: Ford puts brakes on RWD development

Front-drive future: The new Ford Taurus is not for Australia ... but will the iconic American merge with Aussie Falcon in future?

Next-generation Falcon platform halted as Ford seeks to meet strict economy targets

13 Jan 2009

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in DETROIT

FORD has followed in General Motors’ footsteps by ceasing development of a new global large rear-wheel drive vehicle platform, providing the firmest indication yet that future generations of the Australian-built Falcon will become front-wheel drive.

Speaking to GoAuto at the North American International Motor Show in Detroit this week, Ford’s global vehicle development boss Derrick Kuzak revealed the decision, saying: “We don’t have a formal program in place at the moment.

“Because of the direction we are going in terms of fuel economy, we had a rear-wheel-drive vehicle program on the way, but ... we had to put that vehicle program on hold,” he said. “We are now going with another alternative as we go into the future.” Mr Kuzak would not reveal which corner of the Ford world would eventually undertake the development of the alternative architecture for the mid-2010s.

Also this week, Ford’s global design boss J Mays told US industry publication Automotive News that rear-wheel drive was “out of the cycle plan”, echoing Mr Kuzak’s comments to GoAuto.

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“We’ve got other priorities at the moment,” Mr Mays told Automotive News. “We’re going down a path right now that is all about fuel efficiency, and we’ve got a lot to do about that. So we’re not talking about rear-wheel drive.” Ford Australia was widely reported to be in co-developing an all-new rear-wheel drive platform to underpin the 2013 Falcon, as well as a number of US models believed to include the next-generation Mustang and several up-scale Lincolns and Mercurys.

Automotive News said that Mr Mays “expressed disappointment in the cancellation of the project”.

“I was very excited about it,” he said. “I’ll be darned if times didn’t just change right before our eyes.” Ford’s future large car is tipped to be a smaller and lighter front-wheel drive or part-time all-wheel-drive model.

However, Mr Kuzak refused to confirm this, and would not be drawn into speculation suggesting that the next-generation of the similarly sized Taurus and Falcon family cars will morph into a single global program.

This would put the large sedans in line with Ford’s “One Ford” strategy that is globalising all major vehicle lines and putting an end to wasteful duplication.

Mr Kuzak revealed that Ford Australia would not adopt the latest Taurus unveiled this week at the Detroit show, adding that there are no plans to market it anywhere else in the world other than in the US.

“At this point, (the Taurus) is only a North American vehicle,” he said.

Mr Kuzak went on to express admiration for the latest FG Falcon program, and emphasised that the current model released less than a year ago still has plenty of life left in it, so there was no need to rush into a decision about its eventual replacement.

“We have a very capable rear-wheel drive platform in Australia, and we don’t have to change that tomorrow. So we have time to look through and see what the alternatives are – rear-wheel drive or front-wheel drive ... we have not made a decision yet.” Whether this means that the existing FG Falcon platform – dating back to the release of the BA Falcon in September 2002 and also underpinning the Territory SUV that followed less than two years later – remains to be seen.

Ford’s chief of design for North America, Peter Horbury, said the new Taurus did not really point to the look of Ford’s future car plans.

“The Taurus is an iconic name and so deserves a character and a look all of its own,” he told GoAuto. “There are enough Ford (styling) cues to make it feel like its part of the family, but we are not making the next car a smaller version of this, or the same design stretch over an SUV.

“I don’t want to do any clone vehicles. Like in any family, the family is not made is not made up of triplets or quads. Each member of the family each whatever age has its own distinct character but in which you tell who the parents are. And that’s as far as we should go.

“(On the latest Taurus) the upper grille is the same shape of the Fiesta, as is the lower grille on the (US medium-sized sedan) Fusion, and then there’s an undercut like on European Fords, but in this case instead of climbing up from the front wheel to the rear, it actually starts high at the front and pulls away to the rear, so it has a much more American large-car feel.

“It’s making sure that in the showroom of the future, whether it be European Fords or American Fords living in the same showroom, it will all look cohesive … but not to the point where there is cloning, and not the point where only the oval badge is the same.” The 2010 model year Taurus is not new under the redesigned body, which is stronger and safer than before. It is a redevelopment of the previous-generation D258 Taurus that was released to a lukewarm reception in the US as the Five Hundred back in 2004, before Ford president and CEO Alan Mulally ordered a name change back to Taurus for the facelifted model in 2007.

The underpinnings date back to the original front-wheel drive P2 platform developed by Volvo in the 1990s for the first, P23 S80 luxury sedan, as well as the now-discontinued P26 Volvo V70/XC70, among a number of other Ford vehicles.

However, Ford has been through the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension system with a fine-tooth comb, revising components and fitting new dampers in an effort to improve the car’s dynamic capability.

And while the base 196kW/337Nm 3.5-litre Duratec petrol V6 continues with a six-speed automatic gearbox driving either the front or all four wheels, Ford will release a new twin-turbo direct-injection Iceboats V6 engine that is expected to deliver around a V8-challenging 265kW.

Rounding out the changes to the latest Taurus are a collision-warning system, voice-activated satellite navigation, adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot information system, rain-sensing wipers, a push-button start and cap-less refuelling.

Ford’s second-generation Taurus – released in America in 1995 and rumoured to be one of the most expensively developed cars in history – was sold in Australia from 1996 to 1998 as an alternative to the indigenous EF and EL Fairmont Ghia.

Derided for its “blobby” styling and soft dynamics, the car failed to find a market, and was withdrawn from sale in Australia when the infamous AU Falcon range arrived in September 1998.

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