FIRST PUBLISHED OCTOBER 1995
Now, with production of the all-Aussie Falcon scheduled to end in October 2016, Ford is searching for alternatives.
Not for the first time. In 1996 Ford imported the American Taurus to find out if Australians would accept a front-drive model Dearborn assumed could replace the locally designed and engineered (and rear-drive) Falcon. Broadmeadows talked of selling 5000 a year; Ford chairman Alex Trotman told Wheels he expected Taurus to sell in “meaningful volume, something like 10,000”.
It might have been America’s best-selling car, but the radical-styled second-generation Taurus bombed. In its launch year, Ford’s Australian dealers shifted only 2078 of them, compared with 77,835 Falcons. Two years later the Taurus was quietly withdrawn from the market.
In a prescient report, the October ’95 drive story on the new Taurus reached the conclusion that “it is not a Falcon replacement”. But times and market preferences change; this year Falcon sales will struggle to top 9200 and a frontdrive replacement – probably the new Mondeo, though nobody’s saying – is a certainty.
In the same October ’95 issue, editor Angus MacKenzie’s perceptive interview with David Morgan, Ford Australia’s new Sydney-born boss, spelled out the dramas behind Dearborn’s decision to approve development of a new Falcon for 1998. It also warned that under Ford 2000 – the precursor to One Ford a decade later – “this new Falcon will be the last all-Australian Ford: after that, our top-selling car will be born and bred in Dearborn, USA”.
So persuasive were Ford’s local bosses, though, that it didn’t happen. At least not for another two decades, when a fast-fragmenting market and shifting priorities saw Australia’s best-selling car (Corolla in 2015) account for half the level of the top-seller 15-20 years earlier. From the locally developed 1998 AU Falcon came the heavily facelifted and re-engineered BA, followed in 2008 by the seventh-generation FG Falcon. Approval for a new Falcon finally came when “the Americans realised that nothing in Ford’s product portfolio could replace the current car”.
“It wasn’t a yes or no decision,” said Morgan, who told MacKenzie the options included importing the front-drive Taurus and closing down Ford Australia’s manufacturing base – or assembling a localised version. “But it became obvious the best alternative was to have a locally designed and manufactured Falcon.”
Morgan played down the need for an independent rear suspension to match the rival Commodore. “We haven’t really seen it as a huge negative not to have it,” he insisted. “We certainly don’t get much request for it in the marketplace and therefore don’t see it playing a huge role in the difference between ourselves and the competition.”
Even so, upmarket versions of the AU appeared with an expensive and locally developed double-wishbone independent rear suspension, only for it to be replaced by the cheaper ‘control-blade’ IRS on the BA.
IN AN on-paper comparison between Falcon and Taurus in the same issue, John Carey wrote: “Taurus is a slightly smaller car than Falcon – it’s lower and has less boot volume – but with pronounced front and rear overhangs. While the American Ford is a brand new design, it carries the same weight as models of yesteryear. Taurus is only fractionally lighter than the old-fashioned, low-tech Falcon, despite its more compact vital dimensions.”
After comparing the Taurus’ 270Nm 3.0 V6 with the Falcon’s 357Nm 4.0 in-line six, Carey concluded: “It’s obvious Taurus won’t delive the same sort of relaxed performance as Falcon.”
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