Ford freshens Falcon's face for FG
Launching the final revision of the current Falcon in the wake of a bleak year for the all-Aussie icon hasn’t deterred Ford from picking better days ahead.
“Today is about moving forward,” said Ford Australia’s boss Bill Osborne, speaking at the media preview of the FG Falcon in Melbourne last Sunday.
“The new Falcon is set to blow off the cobwebs and reassert itself into family life.”
Code-named Orion, the car is the eighth generation of Australia’s oldest surviving auto nameplate. It launches in New Zealand on June 1.
The climate of change embraces not just the car’s look, but also its marketing direction.
Significantly, a new G-Series range of sports-luxury models replaces the Fairmont and Fairmont Ghia, and the Futura has been dropped altogether.
There are three distinct model lines, all with styling cues.
The starter continues to be be the XT, aimed at fleets that account for most Falcon sales. Then come the G-Series sports-luxury models and finally the XRs.
The FG sedan is rebodied to the point where no exterior parts – in metal or glass – from the outgoing BF will fit. The entire silhouette was changed simply to provide an overdue reshape of the rear door to improve access.
The front suspension is new, being broadly similar in design to the control arm set-up seen on the Territory SUV.
The mainstay 4.0-litre straight six, whose service can be traced back over almost five decades, produces 5kW more power (now 195kW) and 391Nm of torque, 8Nm more than before, on 91 octane and 198kW/409Nm on 95.
It drives through a five-speed automatic and burns slightly less fuel (10.7 litres per 100km). The thriftiest Falcon remains the XR6 six-speed auto, which Ford says can achieve 10.1 litres/100km.
The XR performance engines are the Boss V8, previously restricted to the FPV range, and a turbocharged six that produces similar performance to the old FPV Typhoon mill, but is freshly-developed. Details of the new FPV engines have yet to be discussed.
The turbo six now produces 270kW (up 25kW) and 533Nm, a gain of 53Nm, and the Boss V8 is good for 290kW/520Nm. Expectation is that FPV V8 fans will in turn be able to buy into a 310kW/550Nm version of the 5.4-litre.
Osborne agrees the case for a diesel Falcon (and Territory) is mounting, but says nothing has been decided.
Safety equipment picks up with FG.
Stability control and six airbags, including curtain devices, become standard in the sedan from G6 upward. FPV cars take six-piston Brembo brakes. Falcon utes have side-impact airbags.
Ford is said to be pushing for the Falcon to become the first Aussie-made car to gain the maximum five stars in independent crash testing. The Holden Commodore, Toyota Aurion and soon-to-be-discontinued Mitsubishi 380 have four-star ratings.
Drivetrain-wise, the elderly four-stage auto is finally dropped. Base models now have a five-stager; flasher jobs stick with the fine ZF six-speed. A six-speed manual is optional to the XR variants in Australia but won’t be offered in New Zealand.
Bluetooth, iPod connectivity and a rear-view camera appear on some models and for the first time there’s integrated satellite navigation. All operate through the redesigned centre console display, with a large screen that Ford calls its Human Machine Interface (HMI). In New Zealand sat nav will be a factory-fit option throughout the sedan range. Pricing has yet to be determined.
The FG is said to result from an $Au800 million spend. Ford won’t comment on the budget. The car’s price will also not be announced for another month.
The updated sedan, ute and XR versions of both will be launched at the start of June. The Ford Performance Vehicles’ high performance versions follow about a month later. The station wagon is the only variant not to undergo FG conversion. Instead, we see a BF 3 model, also in June.
A mid-year launch and the pace of the BF run-out means Ford New Zealand is expecting dealerships to be with no Falcon models for six weeks – all of April and the first two weeks of May. After then, the first FG demonstrators arrive.
The FG replaces a car that has faltered in Australia and New Zealand, because rising fuel costs and a move to smaller, four-cylinder product.
Though the Falcon was our most popular Ford in 2007, the tally of 3198 registrations represented a drop of around 31 per cent over the preceding 12 months.
However, Ford NZ says it should be borne in mind that 2006 was an exceptional year for the Falcon, with a big push for the BA model run-out. The company expects the Falcon to continue as its top selling car in 2007, and is aiming to sell around 350 a month once the FG is up to full steam.
That will leave it comfortably ahead of the Mondeo, which offers similar interior space. Ford executives concede that only restricted supply from Europe will ultimately keep the Mondeo behind the big Aussie.
They expect demand for the Mondeo will lift considerably once the automatic diesel comes in May, but still predict 2250 sales for the year because of delivery constraints.
Lifting the Falcon’s fortunes in Australia is the big challenge. Osborne is confident. A Detroit high-flyer, he has only just replaced another American, Tom Gorman, who resigned weeks ago. Until Christmas, Osborne was heading Ford Canada.
The Aussie love affair with big cars is waning. Large car sales there have been sliding for some years, but in 2007 it went from bad to worse, with a 21 per cent slump. The drop was cited by Mitsubishi as a reason to stop building the 380 sedan.
Falcon sales were down 20 per cent over the 2006 tally and it finished the year as Australia’s fifth most popular car. That was a tough blow for a nameplate that for more than four decades has been either the top-selling or number two car across the Tasman.
It got worse. January was its poorest month ever, with a 37 per cent fall being its biggest year-on-year decline. For the first time ever, it was outsold by the Toyota Aurion.
It doesn’t seem to be a short-term problem. Falcon sales have fallen from a peak of 81,000 in 1995 to fewer than 34,000 in 2007.
New Zealand is actually truer to the big Blue. For all its troubles, in 2007 as in 2006, the Falcon remained our third most preferred car, after the Holden Commodore and Toyota Corolla.
The FG is a short-term player. In 2010 there’s a heart transplant when production the inline Barra six ends. From there on the mainstay Falcon engine will be a Duratec V6 designed in, and imported from, the United States.
The everyday Falcons are likely to get a 3.5-litre that matches the Barra on power, but is cleaner and 20 per cent thriftier. The V8 might be under threat, too, with Ford high-ups at last month’s Detroit Motor Show talking up a twin-turbo Duratec as a good V8 substitute.
From 2011 Ford plans to build the Focus hatchback in Melbourne alongside the Falcon and Territory soft-roader wagon, due for facelift in 2009. It believes it will export more Focuses than it sells in Australia.
Questions are already being asked about the next-generation Falcon, due in 2012.
There’s every chance it will be engineered in Australia – that was strongly suggested at Detroit – but there’s also a reasonable chance it might be built in the United States and imported to Australasia. So far, nothing is certain.
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