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First drive: Ford opens Falcon EcoLPi doors
Ford’s make-or-break year rolls on with the crucial new Falcon EcoLPi range
19 Jul 2011
FORD Australia began production of its vital new FG Falcon EcoLPi just before its official July 1 on-sale date, when full pricing was announced, but buyers of the first LPG-powered Falcon to be produced since last year must wait at least another month for first deliveries from mid-August.
The all-new liquid-injection LPG system is priced from $34,595 in the Falcon Ute cab-chassis and $42,790 in the base XT sedan, representing a $2500 increase over the 4.0-litre inline-six petrol engine alongside which it is built in Geelong.
Ford’s high-tech new dedicated LPG system, which is also optional on G6, G6E and XR6 sedan variants as well as Cab Chassis and Styleside versions of the XL, R6 and XR6 Ute, therefore costs $500 more than the E-Gas set-up offered with the Falcon for a decade between the 2000 AUII and when the Euro 4 emissions standard saw production cease in 2010.
However, Ford says the FG Falcon’s vastly superior EcoLPi system’s massive improvements to performance, driveability, economy and environmental friendliness more than offset its 25 per cent higher pricetag.
In fact, with 198kW of power at 5000rpm and 409Nm of torque at 3250rpm, the latest LPG Falcon is something of a performance black horse, eclipsing the standard petrol engine’s 195kW and 391Nm outputs significantly on 91 RON unleaded while equalling it for power on 95 RON premium unleaded petrol.
This represents a 27 per cent improvement in power and a 10 per cent gain in torque compared to the vapour-injection system employed by the old Falcon E-Gas engine, which delivered just 156kW and 371Nm.
As we’ve reported, one Ford insider has suggested the Falcon EcoLPi’s power output even approaches 210kW, but it is likely Ford does not want its petrol-powered Falcon to be overshadowed. Look for the new ‘EcoLPi’ rear-end badging before attempting to outsprint one from the traffic lights.
Aiding the newcomer’s progress in all areas is an upgrade from a four-speed to a six-speed automatic gearbox courtesy of ZF, matching the rest of the FG range.
In terms of all-important fuel consumption, the EcoLPi-equipped XT is 16.1 per cent more economical than E-Gas at 12.5 litres per 100km (or 15.4 per cent better in the heavier G6, G6E and XR6 sedans, which return 12.6L/100km).
Similarly, at 203 grams per kilometre, the XT EcoLPi sedan emits 15.4 per cent less CO2 than before (E-Gas: 240g/km), as well as less CO2 than its petrol-powered sibling (236g/km).
So despite using more fuel than its petrol sibling (9.9L/100km), the XT EcoLPi sedan is not only the most environmentally friendly Falcon ever, but – because LPG continues to cost about half as much as petrol – also the cheapest to run.
According to Ford, the EcoLPi’s $2500 price premium – which reduces to just $500 after the federal government’s $2000 LPG vehicle grant – will repay itself within six months.
Based on average annual mileage of 20,000km and an LPG price of 66 cents per litre, the Falcon EcoLPi will consume 2500 litres of LPG at a total cost of $1650.
Based on an unleaded petrol price of $1.39 per litre, an equivalent petrol-powered Falcon will consume 1980 litres of fuel at a total cost of $2752.20, meaning the LPG vehicle’s payback period will be 23.5 weeks.
After that, EcoLPi models will continue to save the average driver more than $1100 a year, almost $92 a month or about $23 a week.
Of course, those savings and therefore the payback period will change in July 2014, when the LPG Vehicle Scheme (which has been capped to 25,000 vehicles annually from July 1 this year) is scheduled to end – and if the Gillard government introduces excise on LPG as planned from December, adding up to 12.5 CPL to the cost of LPG over the next five years.
Nevertheless, the former E-Gas system accounted for about a quarter of all Falcon sales and expectations are high that both fleet and private buyers will respond to the benefits EcoLPi to help reverse the Falcon’s falling fortunes.
Ford will not know just how much demand there is for its ground-breaking LPG Falcon models until their first full month on sale in September, but it will have a sizeable head start on Holden’s upcoming dedicated LPG Commodore due in the first quarter of next year.
While Ford says it does not have an order bank of LPG customers waiting for the Falcon EcoLPi to arrive in dealer showrooms, there is pent-up demand for the new system.
“We’ve been out of the market since we finished production of the LPG last year, so this year there has been no vehicle to supply to the market,” says Ford’s product communications manager Justin Lacy.
“We obviously have a lot of fleet business in that area and they are keen to see the new car so they could get back into it.”
Ford still has a fight on its hands, however, as total sales of LPG-powered vehicles are down 56.2 per cent in the first six months of 2011, thanks in part to the lack of an LPG Falcon.
Private passenger vehicle take-up has plummeted 91.2 per cent to just 19 vehicles against 76.3 per cent for its fleet equivalent (661 vehicles), while in the light commercial sector LPG fleet volume has halved (782 vehicles) compared to just a 7.3 per cent drop for private use (191 vehicles).
With Falcon sales slumping by 43.2 per cent (sedan) and 30.4 per cent (ute) so far in 2011, EcoLPi cannot arrive soon enough.
EcoLPi is just the latest in a line of Ford model replacements or revisions that have commenced over the last 12 months and will see more than 85 per cent of the Blue Oval model range change within the next year.
After the refreshed Fiesta, MC Mondeo with EcoBoost and SZ Territory with diesel power will come the LW Focus, T6 Ranger and FG Series II Falcon facelift before the end of this year, while the four-cylinder turbo Falcon EcoBoost arrives in early 2012.
To recap, the EcoLPi engine features a new fuel-injection system co-developed with Orbital and employing a new injector-based, high-pressure fuel rail to deliver liquid-state LPG fuel directly into the intake port, in the same way the regular I6 petrol unit does.
So, unlike the old LPG set-up that turns liquefied gas into vapour before feeding it into the engine via a venturi in the throttle body, liquid injection systems send gas in a liquid state to the injectors.
The many benefits the EcoLPi system come as a result of more precise injection of the fuel for improved engine volumetric efficiency, as well as better combustion due to more favourable heating and cooling properties.
Other changes over the old Falcon E-Gas engine include a new dedicated fuel rail – including injectors – designed and developed specifically for Ford, as well as different lightweight pistons, including a low-friction ring pack.
Compression is increased to 12.0:1 to improve engine thermal efficiency and fuel consumption, while new polymer fuel lines with a low thermal mass are designed to keep the LPG fuel liquefied, and a new fuel line filter and in-tank filter are added to prevent system component contamination.
There are also significant modifications to the fuel tank, including all-new internals and sub-level components, as well as a new high-pressure fuel pump, while a new catalytic converter is now common with the petrol I6.
Rounding out the changes are major calibration and engine management system modifications, including a new fuel priming strategy.
The lack of a suitable storage space in the popular seven-seat version of the SZ Territory precludes it from going gas, leaving the V6 TDCi diesel as the economy king in Ford’s medium SUV.
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