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Ford's Falcon future still unclear

Still going: Ford's Geelong engine plant will continue operating into 2010.

The future of Ford Australia and its Falcon remain unclear despite engine extension

Ford logo25 Nov 2008


FORD Australia has announced it will not turn off the lights at its Geelong engine plant as planned in 2010, but has given no guarantee about how long will they will stay on.

It is unclear whether the inline six-cylinder will power the next all-new Falcon or if it will be replaced with a US-made V6.

There is also confusion over the architecture that the next-generation Falcon will be built on following a GoAuto report from Los Angeles that Ford’s rear-drive architecture, which Ford Australia would have helped develop, is on hold.

Ford Motor Company president Alan Mulally told GoAuto in August that the next-generation Falcon would share a platform with other large Fords in the US. He even floated the idea that the platform could be front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

It is very unlikely the local I6 would be developed to run as a front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, especially on a platform developed for a V-design engine.

When asked last week if the I6 could be used with a shared platform using front-wheel drive, Mr Burela answered: “We haven’t made a decision on front-wheel, rear-wheel drive,” he said. “That discussion is ongoing.” Mr Burela appeared to indicate that Ford Australia would choose whether it continued with a rear-drive Falcon rather than simply receive orders from Detroit.

“If I look at the investment we have made in the FG series of vehicles, the Falcon, the ute and what we have done with Territory, we are committed to continuing with that plan until the Australian buyer says that plan is no longer viable,” he said.

A global Ford rear-drive architecture may allow for a different engine configuration and therefore leave the door open for the I6, but it is far from certain.

 center imageLeft: Tom Gorman and Marin Burela.

When Ford presented the updated Mustang coupe in LA last week it admitted to GoAuto that the future of large rear-drive Ford’s was unclear.

“The Ford global rear-wheel-drive platform program is on hold,” the executive director of communications for Ford of The Americas, Jennifer Flake said. “We have no decision to announce at this point. The decision is, there is no decision.” Ford Motor Co executive vice-president Mark Fields, who presented the US version of Ford’s Mondeo in the shape of the all-new Fusion mid-size sedan at LA, refused to answer questions on the Falcon’s rear-drive future.

The delay of the Ford global rear-drive architecture could see the Falcon continue with its I6 engine and existing unique rear-drive platform.

It could also share its next platform with US cars and run a US V6, in which case it would be essentially a re-skinned Taurus made in Australia or, in the worst-case scenario for Ford Australia, imported from the US.

Asked whether the continuation of the I6 could mean the Falcon would continue past the current generation, Mr Burela said: “How can I answer a question like that? We have only just launched the FG series of cars. Our cycle plans tend to work on a six-year cycle and it is really too early to talk about what that means for 2015.” The implication that the current Falcon would last another six years is likely to raise eyebrows in the industry given the FG Falcon was not an all-new model, but a substantial upgrade of an existing car.

In terms of the I6 engine, it will be developed to pass the Euro IV emission controls in 2010 but it is still unclear how Ford Australia would be able to afford any further development.

The $21 million Ford Australia announced it would spend on the upgrade is merely the amount it will spend on upgrading the engine plant itself and makes no mention of the development cost.

The man who was at the helm of Ford Australia when it announced the plant would be closed, Tom Gorman, told journalists in 2007 that this was the major issue with the I6 which, at that stage, had an annual production run of just 70,000.

In justifying the US V6 – an engine Ford planned to produce more than a million of every year from 2011 – Mr Gorman said: “It is imperative that we improve our ability to respond to the increasing consumer desire for alternative fuels, improved performance, and better fuel economy while spreading the investment required across a broader base of vehicles. Importing the new engine from 2010 will allow us to achieve these goals.” Passing the Euro IV standard does not require much cost or major development, but Euro V is likely to require a lot more investment in the I6. The federal government has not yet announced when the Euro V emission standard will be introduced here and that decision may be a critical part of determining the lifespan of the I6.

Asked how much time Ford had before it had to upgrade its engine again to meet emission standards, Mr Burela said: “That’s a good question and I don’t have an answer for you. The reason is that there has been no plan, no decision on when Australia goes to Euro V and when we understand that we will then go back and re-evaluate where we stand and what is the ability to take the engine past the Euro IV level.” Ford Australia could rely on some funding from the federal government’s just-announced $6.2 billion car plan for future development of the engine.

Its move to develop the I6 engine to pass Euro IV standards attracted federal Government investment to the tune of $13 million and also an undisclosed amount from the Victorian government.

However, the government contribution is not new and is being unlocked from an amount allocated by the Howard government which retracted the money after Ford announced it would close the engine plant.

The Rudd government plan and the Green Car Innovation Fund could provide further assistance for developments such a more advanced LPG system for the I6.

Federal industry minister Kim Carr told GoAuto last week that LPG was a promising alternative fuel, but stressed it was not the only solution it wanted to promote under its environmentally friendly fund. “It is one of them, but we are technologically agnostic,” he said.

Ford Australia is currently the only local car-maker to build a dedicated-LPG model, but Holden has announced it is developing a single-fuel LPG system for its V6 engine that would replace its existing dual-fuel system.

Holden’s existing dual-fuel system, and the single-fuel LPG system under development, uses a sequential-vapour injection system, which is considered more efficient than the single-point system in the Ford E-Gas system where LPG is pre-mixed with oxygen before it is sent into the manifold.

Previous Ford Australia president Bill Osborne told GoAuto that the US-made Duratec V6, which was supposed to replace the Australian I6 in 2010, was being developed to run on LPG.

Mr Burela, who led the development of the new Fiesta which will also be equipped with LPG, is talking up LPG but will not be drawn on whether Ford Australia move to vapour-injection technology or continue with the current system.

“I think there is a future for LPG full stop,” he said. “I think LPG is a viable part of the overall plan.” Senator Carr told GoAuto that he had been in discussions with investors who had wanted to purchase the I6 engine plant from Ford, but was pleased Ford Australia decided to give it a future.

“I had numerous conversations with people who wanted to buy this plant and put vehicles into China unmodified, but this is a better solution” he said. “It is a very good engine. In terms of engineering it is a very good engine. There is no need to throw it away.”

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