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Ford plans Middle East Falcon attack

Grand plans: Scott Strong with the UAE flag.

Ford design chief confirms bid to follow Toyota and Holden to Mid-East with Falcon

Ford logo19 Apr 2007

FORD Australia intends to follow Holden and Toyota into the Middle East by exporting the next-generation Falcon to be launched next year.

"We’d love to do left-hand drive and to have an export business," said Ford Asia-Pacific’s American-born design director Scott Strong on Monday. "We’ve got our sights on the Gulf States, just as Holden and Toyota have.

"We’re bullish on export and left-hand drive. We hope it will happen and we think it’s fairly urgent." The new Falcon has been designed with left-hand drive in mind but would still take another "couple of years" – according to Mr Strong – to get it to market.

It is seen as an ideal replacement in the Gulf States for the aged Canadian-built Crown Victoria, which is built on a 30-year-old platform.

Under the watch of CEO Alan Mulally, the Ford Motor Co’s new global management is understood to be more receptive than the previous regime to the prospect of a modern replacement for the Crown Victoria.

"The logical next step for us is to produce a left-hand drive car and get our foot in the door with an offering in the Gulf States," said Mr Strong.

"The rear-wheel drive large luxury segment is one of the higher priorities in global strategic discussions because the corporation recognises there is still a demand for those kinds of cars in the Gulf States and Australia.

"But North America has to make a strategic decision because they do offer a vehicle that, even though it’s quite long in the tooth, is still quite liked by people there. We call it a fairly old-fashioned car here, but the clientele in the Middle East still quite like that formula.

"We’d like to encourage the corporation to move on and offer a more modern car and Ford Australia is always waving the flag and saying, ‘look at this, we think it’s good’.

27 center imageLeft: Crown Victoria.

"With the new leadership, they’re going to look very carefully at the strategic value of certain decisions, so I guess what I’m saying is, if it’s right for Australia and the strategic welfare of the company then we’ll push forward.

"From an Australian perspective, it’s absolutely desirable and we’re doing everything we can to show the strategic corporate benefits of doing that, including pointing out the level of support we would get from the government." However, Mr Strong warned that the current strength of the Australian dollar could have an impact on the proposed export program.

"Australia appears to be a logical place (for high-quality, low-volume, rear-drive production), but the compelling argument that this is a low-cost centre is tenuous and we shouldn’t take it for granted," he said.

"If international currency exchanges aren’t helping us, then Australia – whether it’s Holden, Ford or GM – have to get even more-clever in how they deliver value in a global sense.

"That’s what won (Holden) the business doing the Camaro and their left-hand drive vehicles – getting value out of Australia. If that disappears then you may see a day where that no longer makes sense. Ford is just in a different point in time as we entertain that question.

"Historically – and even today, though it’s more tenuous than it was earlier – Australian engineering and manufacturing represented a bargain in the world.

"The first time I was here in 1998, I think the dollar got down to 57 cents or something – that’s engineering at half price compared to North America and Europe.

"When we did the BA Falcon and the Territory, the corporate accounting guys saw the engineering build for a sedan and a crossover light SUV was a real bargain, so that opens the conversation of why don’t we develop more there.

"We’ve got that recognition with some global programs ... but that competitive value is at risk because of competition in China and Asia and India, and the swing of the dollar.

"We are starting to look less attractive than we were some years ago." The current Ford Crown Victoria is built on Ford’s rear-drive ‘Panther’ platform, which dates back to 1978.

It is one of the few remaining cars in the world with bench seats and an easily-repairable body-on-chassis construction, making it popular with US police forces.

Read more: Ford to close its doors

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