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Gas to boost Falcon sales

New propulsion: The Ford Falcon EcoLPi gas system is now in production and went on sale from July 1.

Ford banks on EcoLPi to boost flagging Falcon sales by a quarter

5 Jul 2011

IT MAY be too late to prevent last month’s 30 per cent sales slide, but Ford Australia expects the availability of its new-generation EcoLPi gas system to provide a significant boost to Falcon sales in the second half of this year.

Now in production and officially on sale from July 1, Ford’s new locally developed six-cylinder liquid phase injection LPG engine is available across the Falcon sedan and ute range, in which it commands a $2500 price premium over equivalent petrol models.

Ford says the $500 price increase over the E-Gas system it belatedly replaces is more than offset by the more advanced Euro 4 emissions-compliant liquid injection system’s vast improvement in performance, driveability and efficiency.

“At the end of the day I think it’s all about value for money,” Ford Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano told GoAuto at the Australian International Motor Show opening on Friday, when full EcoLPi pricing and details were released.

“As customers get in and experience what that vehicle has to offer in respect to the powertrains, the fuel efficiency, the technology, the driving dynamics, the overall design, the way they feel in that vehicle – that value for money is what we’ll continue to come back to.”

Matched for the first time with a six-speed ZF automatic transmission as standard, the new LPG system makes Ford’s entry-level Falcon XT sedan 16.1 per cent more economical than before at 12.5 litres per 100km, while the G6, G6E and XR6 sedans are 15.4 per cent more efficient at 12.6L/100km.

27 center imageLeft: Ford Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano.

Similarly, at 203 grams per kilometre according to the ADR 81/02 test cycle, the Falcon XT EcoLPi sedan emits 15.4 per cent less CO2 than the FG Falcon’s E-Gas system (240g/km), which should attract an extra star from the federal government’s Green Vehicle Guide.

EcoLPi, which remains Australia’s only dedicated-LPG system, is also now available in the Falcon XL, R6 and XR6 Ute models (in both Cab Chassis and Styleside Box body configurations), in which similar efficiency gains combine with pump prices that remain about half that of petrol to return significantly lower running costs.

Ford says EcoLPi’s biggest drawcard, however, is a dramatic increase in performance that is officially rated at 198kW at 5000rpm and 409Nm of torque at 3250rpm.

That echoes the outputs of Falcon’s 4.0-litre petrol six when running on 95 RON unleaded, but equates to a substantial 27 per cent increase in power over the discontinued E-Gas engine (156kW) and 10 per cent more peak torque – up from 371Nm.

It also means LPG Falcons – differentiated by ‘EcoLPi’ badging – offer 18Nm more peak torque than models fitted with Ford’s Geelong-built petrol six (195kW/391Nm), which Ford says translates to a noticeable improvement in flexibility.

However, GoAuto understands the EcoLPi engine’s actual power output is about 10kW higher than the petrol engine’s, potentially making it as high at 210kW.

The vastly improved LPG system cannot come soon enough for Falcon, sales of which slumped by 30.3 per cent (sedan) and 23.6 per cent (ute) in June – traditionally the year’s biggest month for fleet sales.

Falcon sedan sales were down 43.2 per cent (ute: 30.4 per cent down) in the first half of this year, when the LPG models that previously accounted for a quarter of sales were all but unavailable.

Mr Graziano defended the lack of a seamless transition between EcoLPi and E-Gas models, which did not meet last year’s tighter Euro 4 emissions standard, saying the engineering program was lengthy but worth it, given the new system’s level of sophistication.

“This is the first of this type of vehicle anywhere in the Ford world,” he said. “The technology the engineering team has been able to put into the LPi truly is state of the art, and it’s a world-first for Ford.”

Along with a new fixed-price servicing offer announced this week, Ford hopes this month’s EcoLPi introduction will translate to a big spike in Falcon sales in the second half of this year, before the model’s first (EcoBoost) four-cylinder continues the momentum next February.

Ford will not reveal its exact sales forecast for EcoLPi or Falcon sales overall and has denied news from GoAuto sources that just one in 10 inline sixes built in Geelong will be LPG versions.

However, Ford Australia vice-president of marketing, sales and service Beth Donovan confirmed that EcoLPi models are expected to outsell E-Gas models, which accounted for between 20 and 25 per cent of total Falcon sales.

“We believe that they are both opportunities for growth,” said Ms Donovan of Falcon’s new EcoLPi and EcoBoost engines, adding that both engines would exceed customer expectations in terms of both performance and economy.

“We also think that we’re going to have customers reconsider buying a large car in this market because we now have a solution – again, there isn’t any compromise in that large car.

“We own that market (dedicated LPG). We have customers who have decided that that’s part of their infrastructure, that they believe in that because of the cost to ownership value that’s there.”

Mr Graziano pointed out that Falcon’s recent sales slump has occurred in a large-car segment that declined by 53 per cent between 2000 and 2010, and that since then Ford has been without wagon and LPG versions of its Falcon.

“It is a pretty significant part of our volumes, both in the sedan as well as the ute, so we’re just keenly interested in getting that vehicle back into the portfolio,” said Mr Graziano.

“We’re confident that as we launch that new technology those customers that have been waiting for LPG – who understand the value and the benefit of that – will come in and try our vehicle.

“The customers ultimately will tell us with their vote by purchasing the vehicle, but we’re very optimistic about that car.

“What we are continuing to do is to make sure that we get our message out there on what the Falcon represents and what the value is of the Falcon.”

Despite this and the fact it advertises diesel power for the Territory, Ford has confirmed EcoLPi will not form the basis of specific advertisements for the Falcon, a facelifted FGII version of which will be launched in October.

Instead, Ford Australia public affairs director Sinead McAlary said EcoLPi would be part of Ford’s overall marketing strategy for the Falcon and would be promoted “below the line” via the automotive media rather than “above the line” in TV, print or outdoor advertising.

“As a technology by itself … we’re still working through what we’re going to do with EcoLPi,” she told GoAuto recently.

“One of the challenges we have with LPG fuel is the impression of the fuel amongst retail customers.

“Obviously with limited time on air and a limited budget you’ve only got so much you can do to communicate,” she said.

“So we’re looking at how we’re going to promote Falcon in the second part of the year and obviously EcoLPi is a part of that and we’re looking at an LPi communication strategy fits into the broader Falcon picture.

“LPG is incredibly popular in the used car market and with fleets both big and small, obviously for cost of ownership reasons.

“One of the issues we’ve had with LPG previously in relation to our vehicles was the perceived degradation in performance – it was seen as a bit of a compromise“All those things will change with this system, so we need to find a lot of clever ways to communicate that and we’re working through how we will do that in an ‘above the line’ manner, but we think a lot of the communications comes down to things that we do with what’s called the ‘below the line’ experience, including working with the media which reviews it.

“In terms of the real education we need to do on the fuel, there’s probably a lot more value in concentrating on that, particularly in the short-term.”“So for us it’s very important to drive awareness of Falcon and there are a lot of good things about Falcon we need to communicate to consumers in our advertising and LPi - as good as it will be - will be only one of them.

“EcoLPi will be one part of the message but because it’s a technology that we have to explain, a lot of the emphasis will be on non-technical advertising. We need to work out how we will communicate all of the competing things.”

Ford says EcoLPi is a welcome addition for motorists in a climate of increasing petrol prices, despite a federal government promise last week not to apply a carbon tax on fuel and the fact excise on LPG fuel is still being debated.

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