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Ford Falcon EcoBoost on slow burn

Sales Boost: Ford Australia expects the Falcon EcoBoost to sell in modest numbers in 2012.

Blue Oval sets the sales bar low for Falcon EcoBoost’s first seven months

Ford logo24 Apr 2012

FORD Australia has conceded it faces a slow uptake of its new EcoBoost Falcon as it works to educate buyers on the merits of a locally built four-cylinder large sedan.

At this week’s launch of the much-anticipated new Falcon variant, Ford Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano revealed to GoAuto that the car-maker was targeting just 2000 sales to the end of this year.

This represents only about 12 per cent of total Falcon volume at its current slow sales rate.

Ford had previously projected that the new arrival would be the major catalyst in turning around Falcon’s dwindling sales, which hit a record low last year and are down a further 23.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2012.

As well as battling weakening consumer demand, the company has experienced problems with a key LPG component supplier – and was this week working to avoid a production shutdown due to financial issues affecting another supplier, CMI Industries.

“We’re looking at this to fill a niche that we’re not able to today with the six-cylinder powertrains,” said Mr Graziano.

“It’s about having people understand what the technology is capable of doing – it will take some time to see that in the marketplace.”

Ford Australia public affairs director Sinead Phipps said the key to convincing buyers to look at the EcoBoost was “getting bums on seats”.

She said it was a different situation to the launch in April last year of the diesel version of the Territory SUV, for which there was “a big order bank of customers waiting”.

“We really think this will be more of a slow burn where we have to get people to actually experience it, and we’ll start to build up from there,” said Ms Phipps.

She said there are other factors in the lower-than-expected projections, telling GoAuto that “by the time we get volume into dealerships it will be late May or early June, so we’ve really only got six months of this year.”

While Ford faces an uphill battle, it expects a stronger uptake once awareness spreads on the performance of the new turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which produces more torque than the six-cylinder units in both the Holden Commodore and the new Toyota Aurion, which was launched last week.

27 center imageFrom top: Ford Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano, the FG Falcon MkII Ecoboost engine, the interior of the Falcon.

The large-car segment in Australia declined 22.5 per cent in the first quarter and Ford sold 3398 Falcon sedans, compared with 8348 for the Commodore sedan and Sportwagon range.

Mr Graziano defended the Falcon’s sales, saying it was partially a result of the company having shifted its focus from fleets to private buyers.

“What we’ve tried to do is be very proactive in where we are targeting our volumes to come from, so we’ve exited some of the channels that really don’t provide the long-term brand-building capability,” he said.

“That’s partially what’s brought us that decline.

“With the technologies that we have we’re looking to improve our private share – which was actually up last year – and we’re looking to build this year.”

Nevertheless, Mr Graziano said that much of the early volume on EcoBoost would come from the business sector, since many fleets have requirements around displacement and emissions levels – something that Holden has capitalised on with its locally built four-cylinder Cruze.

“We’re hopeful that this will get us back onto some (fleet) buyer’s lists, or onto some lists that we presently can’t get onto,” he said.

He would not say what the eventual growth of the four-cylinder would mean for the Geelong-built six-cylinder engine, saying only that this engine retained a core following due to its advantages in areas such as towing capacity (2300kg compared to EcoBoost’s 1600kg).

Ford’s $103 million investment in Australia announced in Detroit in January has locked in local manufacturing operations until 2016, but beyond this the fate of the six-cylinder engine and the Falcon remains unclear.

Mr Graziano said the 2016 deadline “gives us some time to think about where we’re going to go from here”.

Ford’s other locally built models – the Falcon Ute and Territory SUV – will not be getting the EcoBoost engine in the foreseeable future as Ford concentrates on lifting ute sales with the LPG-powered EcoLPi variant and putting its resources behind the diesel engine that has made up the bulk of Territory sales since its launch in April 2011.

The gas-powered EcoLPi engine has failed to arrest the slide in Falcon sedan sales since it was launched in July last year.

Ford had expected the sophisticated liquid-injection system would be more popular than the E-Gas system it replaced, which has traditionally accounted for around 25 per cent of total Falcon ute and sedan sales.

However, Ms Phipps said EcoLPi sales are currently running at around 20 per cent, with most sales for the ute rather than the sedan.

Sales have been impacted by supply issues on several key parts, particularly the gas tanks provided by Victorian-based APV Automotive Components, which earlier this month was placed in the hands of receivers.

However, Ms Phipps said APV was “back up and running as of Monday this week”, which will enable Ford to ramp up production.

She said the whole local industry had stepped in to support APV “with forward orders, guaranteed orders and price increases”.

Mr Graziano said the company was looking forward to getting EcoLPi sales percentages back to normal “because it represents a pretty significant part of our volumes historically”.

Ford recorded just 7457 sales in March, down 14.3 per cent on the same month last year, and as a result slumped to sixth place in the Australian sales rankings for the first time, behind Toyota, Holden and three importers – Mazda, Nissan and Hyundai.

Territory (up 51.7 per cent) and the Focus small car (up 48.3 per cent) are Ford’s only passenger models to show growth this year.

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