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Fairlane may yet return

High-line hiatus: The Fairlane may live again if the long-wheelbase version of the next-generation Falcon gets the go-ahead.

Ford’s premium model could rise from the ashes, despite its ‘discontinuation’ in 2008

17 May 2007

THE condemned Fairlane could rise from the ashes to carry Ford Australia’s export hopes.

The company announced last week its limping long-wheelbase Fairlane and LTD models would be “discontinued” within the next year and are not to be updated along with the next-generation Falcon – codenamed Orion – due in the second quarter of 2008.

However, Ford Australia president Tom Gorman was careful not to rule out the return of the Fairlane as a possible export model.

“That’s why we are saying that we are discontinuing long-wheelbase,” Mr Gorman told GoAuto. “The opportunity for us to come back in that market may exist if we find a way to leverage a lot more volume.”

Mr Gorman said the Fairlane name had a positive brand value and there was a chance it could be used for a car sold in Australia sometime in the future.

“I have learned enough to never say never and never say always, but I do think you could hear that name come back utilised somewhere,” Mr Gorman said.

“Longer term, you can see the direction that Ford is going. If you are watching Ford closely, with the appointment of Derrick Kuzak as the global head of product development and (Ford Motor Company CEO Alan) Mulally’s vision on this is very clear, that we have to utilise our capacity and our capabilities better globally, and I think that bodes well for us.

“We have a lot of capability here, we have capacity here, and from a technical and engineering standpoint we are recognised as being very strong.”

Mr Gorman said there was a chance a long-wheelbase model, either made in Australia or with an Australian-engineered platform, could return as part of a future plan.

“So longer term, we are really talking into the next decade, do we play a role in a rear-wheel drive strategy around the world? I think there is a lot to be said before I give you a yes or a no, but we have a seat at the table today. I’d like to think that there would be a role for us.

“That might mean bringing some of those products back, maybe they would be imported, maybe they would be built here I don’t know, there could be a whole raft of opportunity.”

27 center imageMr Gorman (left) said a possible future Fairlane project would depend on exports in much the same way that Holden’s current Statesman and Caprice required export revenue to justify the $190 million investment in the WM model.

“Looking at Holden: most of their long-wheelbase product is sold outside of Australia,” Mr Gorman said.

“You are getting businesses that can leverage that investment over a much, much larger volume, and until we can really find that opportunity I think it would be very hard to see us doing a long-wheelbase on its own.”

Holden exported more than 20,000 long-wheelbase models last year, but sold just 3000 locally. Most of those exports went to the Middle East, a market Ford Australia would love to enter with either a Falcon or long-wheelbase model.

Currently Ford sells the ancient, American-built Crown Victoria in the Middle East region, which is struggling to match the new WM models sold as Chevrolet models.

However, Mr Gorman said the current strength of the Australian dollar against the US dollar made it harder to justify an export program.

“When it’s at 83 cents in the dollar, it gets harder for someone to say okay to a business case,” he said.

While Ford announced the current Fairlane would not make it past 2008, Mr Gorman confirmed a new Falcon ute would be available from the launch date of the Orion sedan.

Mr Gorman also said a Falcon station wagon, which is built on a longer wheelbase than the Falcon sedan, still had a place in the model line-up.

“It is a tool of trade vehicle but it is a solid customer base for us and we are keeping an eye as to what happens competitively, but we are still pretty pleased with that business segment for us and we think there is a place for us,” he said.

Mr Gorman said axing the Fairlane, which has been built in Australia since 1967, was a difficult decision, but said there was simply not enough customer demand to warrant developing an all-new model off the Orion platform.

“It is a difficult decision for us emotionally because of all the history of the vehicle and I am sure, beginning tomorrow, we will get the letters from the customers and so forth and so on, but I also think it represents that we are realistic in facing up to the changes in the marketplace,” Mr Gorman said.

“The market dynamics have shifted so radically in the last three or four years that I think to try and hang on to something for nostalgia, if you will, is dangerous business behaviour.”

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