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Falcons for Britain

Selling up a storm: UK Verte importer believes Ford's Falcon will be a big hit with UK drivers.

Up to 1000 Ford Falcons per year could soon be sold in the UK

17 Jan 2002

THE Australian entrepreneur behind a new export program of rebadged Ford Falcon sedans and utes to Britain expects to sell more than 1000 vehicles per annum once sales commence there in March.

Melbourne-based businessman James Smith, who in the UK last month announced the formation of the Verte Automotive brand with AC Cars chairman Alan Lubinsky, said a wide range of Falcon variants would be considered for export though more than 80 per cent of initial demand was likely to centre on the Falcon ute fitted with dedicated LPG.

"We're pioneering something that is absolutely unknown over there but I'm very optimistic," Mr Smith said.

"I think we'll do a lot better than 1000 units a year over the next two years because of the enquiry we've got from people who are in the fleet business.

"With the utility, we've got a proven group of enquirers from small business, medium fleet, large fleet, government and the police." To be renamed as Verte Tempests and sold throughout greater London via a 10-strong independent retail network, the first batch of Falcons in the five-year deal will comprise petrol and LPG utes - known there as SUVs - in two well-equipped grades (Tempest XL and XLS) priced from £15,950 plus value added tax (VAT).

Tempest XR6 and XR8 utes and sedans will follow soon after, ahead of the Tempest T-Series and possibly other models such as long-wheelbase sedans based on the Fairlane/LTD.

"It is a Ford Australia manufactured car but it will be sold as a Verte in our configuration and with our model designations," Mr Smith said.

He said the ute and short-wheelbase sedans complied with the Euro III emission standard and should emerge soon from the British new-vehicle inspection process relatively unscathed.

No mechanical or sheetmetal changes are expected to be made, however, the vehicles will be required to be better protected against corrosion.

"We've also just done our cold-weather testing up through Scotland and the car went through with flying colours - even the heater was more than adequate!" Mr Smith said.

He said one issue still to be resolved was the additional import duty required for vehicles with more than 2.8-litres engine capacity. He said Verte Automotive had appealed to the British Government for an exemption given the brand's emphasis on LPG gas and low running costs.

Indeed, Mr Smith identified LPG as the biggest drawcard for the Falcon-based Tempests.

"We're really picking up on what the UK government is doing with LPG and that is holding the price on LPG gas to two-thirds less than fuel for the next two years," Mr Smith said.

"We'll do the lot (a full range) but we figure that the situation with gas is an excellent opportunity for us." He said VAT refunds for commercial operators running dedicated LPG vehicles and the prospect of petrol vehicles being excluded in inner-London areas at certain times also made the LPG option an attractive one.

"There's big savings for commercial people with these products," Mr Smith said.

He said tapping into the resources of the AC Car Group - producer of the iconic AC Cobra roadster and, from the final quarter this year, the Green (dedicated LPG) and Black (petrol) Mamba coupes endowed with the Falcon inline six - had allowed Verte Automotive to keep the undisclosed investment costs to a minimum.

He also said the arrangement to sell Falcons in the UK was exclusive to Verte and that Ford Australia would not seek other export opportunities for the car in the Kingdom - even when the AV Falcon becomes available from around September.

"We're not just trying to make a buck selling a few used cars - we're new-car people, we're all-original equipment people ... and we're here for the long haul," Mr Smith said.

And if Ford Australia wanted to start selling Falcons off it's own bat? "We'd be happy to sell them the franchise," he said.

Questions concerning the deal with Verte Automotive were forwarded to Ford Australia at its request, but Ford did not respond before automotive e-news went to press.

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