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Pent-up demand to drive EcoLPi sales

Gassed and ready: Falcon EcoLPi models cost just $500 extra after the federal LPG vehicle rebate.

Ford is counting on a waiting buyer base for the Falcon's new EcoLPi system

22 Jul 2011

FORD Australia expects pent-up demand and the vastly improved performance and efficiency of the Falcon’s new liquid-injection EcoLPi system, which went on sale on July 1 and becomes available for delivery from August, to drive at least as many Falcon sales as the model’s long-lamented E-Gas system.

The Blue Oval will not reveal specific sales targets for the Falcon’s advanced Liquid Phase Injection LPG system in a shrinking large-car market, but denies claims from GoAuto sources that only one in ten inline sixes now built in Geelong are EcoLPi engines and says it expects to maintain the 25 per cent sales split achieved by E-Gas Falcon models before they went out of production last year.

“There’s no reason why it wouldn’t be the same,” Ford Australia sales, marketing and aftersales chief Beth Donovan told GoAuto at this week’s Falcon EcoLPi launch in Melbourne.

“We think it should at least match that. Remember that though the segment is getting smaller for large cars, our (EcoLPi) system is a reason to buy a large car, and a reason to look at Falcon again. We challenged the team to produce a car with less running costs than Fiesta and I think we’ve delivered on that.” Ms Donovan added that the massively improved performance and driveability of the new LPG system as a result of the cool-charged liquefied combustion system has the potential to change the ULP unleaded petrol/LPG paradigm for the Falcon.

More specifically, the fact the Euro 4 emissions-compliant Falcon EcoLPi sedan and ute models offer superior power and torque - 198kW/409Nm versus 195kW/391Nm for the Falcon’s 4.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine - as well as significantly lower refuelling costs and carbon dioxide emissions could sway a higher proportion of driver and/or performance orientated motorists than before, particularly in tandem with the petrol Falcon’s lauded ZF six-speed automatic transmission.

The previous (156kW/370Nm) Euro 3-compliant 4.0-litre E-Gas version on the FG series accounted for between 15 and 20 per cent of all Falcon sedan sales, and between 40 and 45 per cent of Falcon Ute volume, meaning LPG models accounted for about a quarter of total Falcon sales last year.

“If there’s ever a word-of-mouth car this is it,” Ms Donovan said. “We are showing it to private customers and to fleets and we think people are really going to love it.

“LPG has always had imagery problems… but we’ve educated our employees and dealers about it… to help overcome (LPG resistance).”

A $2500 option over the equivalent petrol Falcon, EcoLPi is available on the XT, XR6, G6 and G6E sedan, as well as XL, R6 and XR6 Ute models.

27 center imageAlthough it is $500 more expensive than the E-Gas option it replaces, the EcoLPi system offers more performance, lower fuel consumption and comes with the previously unavailable ZF gearbox as standard.

After the federal government’s $2000 LPG Vehicle Scheme rebate for buyers of new LPG vehicles, the EcoLPi models cost just $500 more than their petrol counterparts.

Ford Australia ceased production of E-Gas Falcon models in September 2010, but did not accumulate enough stock to last between then and when mass EcoLPi Falcon production begins, either late this month or in early August.

Ford Australia cut production to three days a week for three weeks in March, before shedding about 240 workers and cutting production by 20 per cent from this month, due to a 43.2 per cent Falcon sedan sales slump (and a 30.4 per cent Falcon Ute sales slide) in the first half of this year, when large-car sales were down 24.6 per cent.

While Ford has an over-supply of petrol-engined Falcons on grass, Ms Donovan admitted the company simply underestimated customer demand for the old LPG system.

“When the government said this is the last date you can build and produce the E-Gas LPG Falcon we built up as much as we could. We have a certain run rate on how many tanks we could build,” she said.

“But we were well aware that there was going to be a gap between E-Gas and EcoLPi… so we built ahead in terms of anticipation of what the customers would want.

“It ended up we were not able to build as much as what the demand was. Now EcoLPi is here and we are ready (to meet demand).” Ford says it is now working full-steam ahead to meet expected demand for EcoLPi, and remains unconcerned about the possibility of federal government excise being imposed on LPG fuel for the first time from December.

A Howard government plan first hatched in 2003 plans to place an excise of 2.5 cents per litre on LPG - growing to 12.5 cents over the following five years - has been met with strong opposition from LPG interest groups, the taxi industry and federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie.

“There is no way of knowing what the government is going to do in the future,” said Ms Donovan.

“From our perspective we’ve got customers who have built an infrastructure around the cost of ownership on how it relates to LPG, and I like to think that there is a pretty strong base out there of people who think that this is the right step for them to take.

“We’ve committed to putting the engineering and resources in LPG to take it to the next step, and we feel really good about what we are going to do.”

While Ford Australia is not actively lobbying against the tax excise, Ms Donovan said the company had made its position very clear.

“We let them know how we feel about (the LPG tax) and its potential effect on the Ford Motor Company,” she said.

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