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AU, get off of Falcon's cloud

Friendly face: Ford says Falcon is finding friends.

The Australian public is getting used to the innovative styling of the AU Falcon, according to Ford Australia

23 Jul 1999

FORD believes the Australian public is gradually warming to the controversial styling of the AU Falcon and hopes to soon finally beat the older Holden Commodore VT in the sales race.

In June, the company had its best month since launching the AU Falcon last September but still fell 252 units short of the Commodore as Holden switched to the Series II range.

Ford has been gradually closing the gap on Holden all year as its business fleet strategies have kicked in, with its June result coming on the back of dominance in rental cars, thanks to Ford- owned Hertz, and taxis.

The worry for Ford is the attitude of the general public to the AU which was reflected in the figures for private sales.

Although private sales account for only 20 per cent of the total for Falcon and Commodore, 52 per cent more people chose the Holden over the Ford last month. Over the first six months of the year Commodore is 33 per cent ahead of Falcon.

"Yes, I am concerned," said Ford Australia's new sales and marketing chief, Mr Matthew Taylor.

"But the area where people can choose is not only the private market.

"The vast majority of the fleet business is still actually choice business and we are running ahead of Commodore there. Obviously the choice is not as free in the business arena for a lot of customers ... but there is choice and we are ahead of Commodore in that important category.

"We've had some very strong reaction to the design and - particularly from some of yourselves [motoring writers] - some adverse reaction to the design.

"We know from on-going research some of the issues that we need to address. We have already taken some actions to redress some of those in the beginning of May (such as) interior trims and the vehicle ride height.

"We also know that we are narrowing the gap in terms of perception. We always felt that it was a 'stretch' design, it was innovative and it would take time for people to get accustomed to.

"Obviously we would have liked it not to have taken quite so much time for people to become accustomed to it but we are seeing the trend. Having seen a lot of volume on the road, people are getting accustomed to it and are responding much more positively to the design of the AU in general terms.

"But, like all car manufacturers, we are planning our upgrade actions as we go through the cycle of the model and within those upgrade actions we plan to address any issues we can that have come out of the research. So as and when we feel the time is right within the cycle to upgrade, we will do that." A Falcon facelift is due next year and there are sure to be some cosmetic changes to make it more attractive to the majority of car buyers.

The Forte's Darth Vader-style silver grille seems to have caused polarised views inside Ford but a change looks likely.

Even the "egg crate" grille from the new ute was considered a candidate for the facelifted model but in the end it was regarded as being too aggressive for the sedan.

But Ford wants to beat Holden before then and has a stated aim to win at least two months before the end of the year.

"We have been progressively closing the gap with Commodore over the last few months and in June we were only 252 units behind the Commodore, which is the smallest gap we have had since the launch of the AU," Mr Taylor said.

"The closing of the gap reflects some fairly significant issues which are helping us move forward.

"I would really like to highlight the value equation because that's what's making a significant difference for us - the purchase price advantage we've got in key models, depreciation advantages over Commodore as projected by Glasses Guide and whole-of-life costs, where the NRMA recently published data showing that the Falcon Forte actually has an advantage of $3000 over a four-year period.

"We are confident that over time we will close the gap and move ahead of them."

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