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Ford to decide Falcon engine future
Deadline looms for Ford’s Australian-made six-cylinder engine
15 Jun 2009
FORD Australia will decide the future of its locally produced six-cylinder within two months.
While the company has already confirmed it will continue building the in-line six-cylinder engine past the Euro IV emission deadline of July 1, 2010 after initially deciding to switch to a US-built V6, it is now determining the longer-term future of the venerable powerplant.
Ford Australia president Marin Burela said a final decision would be locked in during the next eight weeks.
“We will get to a powertrain decision,” he said. “It has to be done by the end of July – July is the cut-off.
"If we go beyond that we will not be able to get the powertrain strategy deployed in time to meet the requirements that we know we need to meet internally as well as what we need to satisfy the Australian market.”
Mr Burela said the company was close to making a decision.
“We are 99 per cent there. There is some more fine-tuning to be done to make sure that we get it absolutely right.”
Left: Ford Australia president Marin Burela. Below: Ford FG Falcon G6E.
Mr Burela said key Ford personnel in Detroit were helping with the decision.
“The level of intensity that has been applied to that is beyond comprehension, even to the extent that my friend and colleague Derrick Kuzak, who is the global head of PD (product development) for Ford Motor Company, is personally involved.
“He is working with us to help us get to the best solution.
“That shows you the level of focus that Ford Motor Company is applying to making sure we get this right.”
Mr Burela indicated the I6 was a part of Ford Australia’s plans, but didn’t give anything away when it came to how long the Geelong-built engine might be around.
He suggested the I6 could at least continue until the Euro V emission standard was introduced, with the Australian government yet to indicate when that might be.
“Certainly the I6 is part of our plan,” he said. “As I have indicated, until we get an understanding on what the next generation of fuel emission standards will be in Australia, and we don’t expect that to be clear for some time, we think the engine is very efficient, very viable and we can continue to work on it.
“How far we can take it remains to be seen, but there are other options. We will continue to look at our stable of powertrains around the world.
“We are looking at a whole range of things.”
Mr Burela said that, for now, the I6 engine was the best solution.
“We decided not to go down the V6 path, because at the time it just didn’t make economic sense. We knew that we could deliver the same fuel economy with a much more efficient engine using the existing assets that we have invested in, not go out there and ask anyone for support to what we are doing in any tangible way.” Mr Burela indicated Ford Australia was looking at all kinds of different technologies when it came to the Falcon powerplant future.
These are understood to include advancements of the existing petrol I6 as well as the option of a diesel and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that would bring the Falcon into line with the Ford Motor Company's EcoBoost program of switching to smaller, forced-induction engines.
Asked if a four-cylinder turbo engine could work in the Falcon, Mr Burela indicated it might not sit well with large-car customers.
“It is hard to say because once again you have the ratio of engine capability for the size of the vehicle and also how are you going to communicate the capability?“It is really interesting because in Australia, people are very focused on the size of engines, the cubes... whereas in other parts of the world there has been a change there.
"Whatever we decide to do, we just need to make sure we can communicate that credibility.”
Mr Burela also indicated Ford Australia would not follow Holden, which is planning to use aluminium panels to reduce the weight of its Commodore, suggesting such a move would not be worthwhile considering the cost of aluminium.
If Ford Australia decides to further develop the existing I6 engine, it will likely qualify for subsidies under the Green Car Innovation Fund, with the Australian government to cover one quarter of the cost.
Ford Australia is yet to secure funding under the Green Car Innovation Fund, and Mr Burela agreed with the view that the company had been quiet in that regard.
“The reason we have been very quiet is that we take the view that I do not want to go to government every five minutes asking for their support or engagement on that we are not ready to make a statement on,” he said.
“I want to make sure that once we are ready to come forward with a strategy that it is a cohesive, comprehensive and a very thought-out plan and how we engage government in terms of the green car fund I think will be an important part of that overall strategic direction of the discussion.”
Mr Burela said Ford Australia was taking into account how the development funding could help it with powertrain projects.
“We’ve looked at what that means and how the green car fund can support future development, but we’ve also taken a view that once we have taken a decision on what we are going to do, it needs to give everyone – government, consumers and Ford Motor Company – the right answer,” he said.
“If it doesn’t give us the right answer for the medium to long term, then all we are doing is taking money to stay afloat while the industry is going through a very difficult time.”
Under the direction of Mr Burela, whose first task as president was to reverse the decision to switch to the imported V6, Ford Australia is ramping up the promotion of Falcon I6’s fuel economy after the official combined fuel economy non-turbo cars with the six-speed ZF automatic was reduced to 9.9 litres per 100km.
New Ford print advertisements state that Toyota should be worried given the petrol I6 Falcon uses the same amount of fuel as a four-cylinder automatic Camry and that the E-Gas Falcon I6 is cheaper to run than a Toyota Corolla.
Mr Burela, who is keen on direct no-nonsense advertising messages rather than the vague ‘feel-good’ ads that accompanied the launch of the FG range before his arrival, said the new advertising campaign sent a powerful message.
He said a strong response from journalists and some potential customers, who were not aware of the engine’s efficiency, showed the ad campaign was working.
“Australians didn’t know this,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that Australians really understood the fuel economy story.”
Meanwhile, Ford Australia is close to sewing up a deal for its I6 engine to be sold to a company for a non-automotive application.
“Interestingly we are getting inquiries from different sectors about the applications, not necessarily automotive,” Mr Burela said.
He indicated a final deal was not far away.
“We’re close in terms of coming to some level of understanding the how, what, where and how many and conservatively it is another three months to tie up things,” he said.
It would not be the first time Ford Australia has produced the I6 engine for non-automotive purposes. It built an industrial version of the 4.1-litre six-cylinder before the company switched to the 3.9-litre OHC engine for the EA Falcon in 1988.
Mr Burela said the current proposal for engine supply was not the only one the company was looking at.
“There are different things that people out there are talking to us about and the level of interest has been really exciting,” he said.
Ford Australia was approached by overseas car-makers, including some in India and China, who were interested in taking over the Geelong I6 plant if it was closed, but it is not clear if the parties are still interested in taking engines from Ford Australia.
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