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First drive: Fairlane refined

Bling it on: Ford has fired the chrome gun all over the latest Fairlane and LTD.

For its MkII BA Fairlane and LTD, Ford says it has listened to what its customers want

30 Mar 2005

LIFTING languishing Fairlane and LTD sales is the aim of the Ford Australia’s Mark II makeover.

The company accedes to being extremely disappointed in the long-wheelbase models’ failure to fend off its longtime Statesman/Caprice rival, particularly since the BA facelift in July 2003.

Holden’s aggressive Statesman marketing, coupled with its sportier focus on the Caprice, has continued to hold the big Fords back.

Ford Australia president Tom Gorman readily admits the BA Fairlane and LTD were lacking against the competition.

"We were missing some of the luxury appointments," he said.

To that end, mild exterior and interior titivations result in more chrome, re-designed wheels, new colours and ‘MkII’ badging for the three models on offer – Fairlane Ghia, Fairlane G200 and the range-topping LTD.

Chrome caps the Fairlane’s rubbing strips and wheel centres, new rear appliqué and, on the Ghia and LTD, wing mirror scalps.

The latter also feature two-tone painted side skirts and lower valances.

With its sportier focus, the Fairlane G220 adds new 17-inch seven-spoke alloy wheels.

A new leather trim (China Beige) is offered on the Ghia, while all Fairlanes include scuff plates with either ‘Fairlane’ or ‘G220’ as appropriate.

Fairlane drivers now enjoy an eight-way powered seat with memory function, a leather steering wheel in G220 and ‘Rhui Maple’ woodgrain finish in the Ghia. Meantime, LTD includes a Stone Maple woodgrain, leather steering wheel and a choice of either a DVD rear entertainment system or sunroof.

Other changes include more suede trim, a high chrome finish to the instrumentation panel, vents and handles, and lustrous black onyx applied to the Ghia’s dash fascia and console.

Of more interest to drivers will be the firmer independent rear suspension set-up that sits the long-wheelbase cars between the Fairmont Ghia and Falcon XR6 for sportiness.

Ford management claims its customers are already enjoy the outgoing Fairlane/LTD’s driving dynamics, so it sees this as an opportunity to demonstrate Ford’s “prowess in delivering superior ride and handling without sacrificing comfort” against the Holden competition.

There are no alterations to the existing 182kW/380Nm 4.0-litre six-cylinder or 220kW/470Nm 5.4-litre V8 engines. Both continue with four-speed automatic gearboxes.

Ford’s research also revealed the need for greater exterior and interior differentiation between Fairlane and Falcon.

But with limited funds – the 2002 BA and 2004 Territory programs reportedly soaked up $1 billion – the Australian team was forced to make do with minimal changes.

The Blue Oval could be saving up for bigger visual changes to the current Fairlane scheduled to appear later next year in an effort to keep the model fresh until 2008.

That’s when the next all-new Fairlane – based on the next-generation 2007 Falcon – is expected to appear.

And although Ford isn’t confirming this, it is clear the Fairlane must do better if more money is to come forth for development of its successor from Detroit.

Ford officials admit the US head office isn’t too impressed with how its long-wheelbase models are performing right now.

Budget constraints are also limiting the advertising and marketing Ford is using to promote the MkII models, with print, press and billboard advertising slated. Television is out of the picture.

Since the AU generation model’s 1999 debut, Fairlane/LTD sales have almost halved, with the Statesman (and the Caprice especially) picking up much of that slack.

However, with the influx of luxury SUVs like the BMW X5, Lexus RX330, Mercedes M-class and Volkswagen Touareg, the resulting shift in consumer preferences in the luxury segment has also hurt Fairlane sales significantly.

Ford refused to divulge exact sales figure expectations, but it expects the monthly total to rise close to between 200 and 300 units per month.

Last year, the Fairlane/LTD managed around 182 units per month, more than 200 less than the Statesman/Caprice’s efforts.

Ford invented the home-grown luxury segment in March 1967 with the arrival of the ZA Fairlane (and LTD from July ’73).

27 center imageIt was a simple yet extremely profitable recipe: stretch the ’66 XR Falcon sedan body over the wagon’s longer wheelbase, tizzy-up the interior, and charge a hefty premium. Sales skyrocketed.

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. As one senior Ford spokesman admitted, you can almost plot the success of the Fairlane according to how different it looks from its Falcon base.

After the conquering ZA-ZD series original, sales of the XA Falcon-derived ZF of 1972 suffered for being too similar to its donor car.

Ford rectified this with the popular 1976 ZH (which also begat the famous ‘Rolls-Royce’ grille LTD), and continued to dominate the luxury sector throughout the 1980s.

It was only after Holden’s resurrection of the Statesman (after its laughable HK Premier-based Brougham from 1968 and lacklustre HQ-WB models between 1971 and 1984) from 1990 that the Fairlane finally met its sales match.

Fairlane Ghia 4.0 $56,000
Fairlane Ghia V8 $60,750
Fairlane G220 $62,670
LTD $72,790



* - Denotes changeover to AU Fairlane (from NL) and WH Statesman (from VSIII)

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