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Ford Australia’s recent announcement: the fallout.

488916-ford-australia-ceo-bob-grazianoThe announcement on Thursday, 23rd May, by Ford Australia CEO Bob Graziano, that the two Victorian based manufacturing plants would cease making the Falcon, Territory and the 4.0L engines was not unexpected, if somewhat cynically timed to coincide with Holden’s official VF Commodore media launch.

What does it really mean for Australia’s auto industry? Note I said auto industry, not car manufacturing industry. First up, of course, is the human cost. Around 1200 workers are directly affected, with the knock on effect through to suppliers sure to hurt a little, with an estimated (possible) 2500 others in various component suppliers. There’s areas such as brake components, electrical, tyres that will lose orders…..although Graziano’s announcement suggested an increase on the overall model lineup (which, to be honest, gives me mixed feelings) those cars will have been supplied and built overseas.

The root cause of the announcement can’t be traced to any ONE source; it’s easy to say it’s solely because of the losses AU Falconthat have mounted up but why is that the case? Was it the failure of the AU Falcon, intended to reinvigorate the Falcon nameplate and soundly denounced by a member of the Ford family? Was it the rise and rise of the SUV? Was it the better engineered competitors with sharper pricing? Was it, simply, bad company management, both here and at Dearborn, Ford’s US headquarters? It’s been said that Ford AU fought for better export opportunities against the will of Ford US, with the somewhat underwhelming Capri, based on the Laser/323 twins being a “highlight” of their export efforts.

Ford Australia has an immense amount of moments in history; Lewis Brandt’s coupe utility from 1934, the gorgeous range of coupes from the XM of the early 1960s through to the XC from the mid-late ’70s, including that now iconic 1-2 finish at Mt Panorama and the shape’s contribution to filmdom, with the immortal Mad Max Interceptor. There’s the 1934_ute_brochureEuropean inspired XE Fairmont ESP, with the 351ci beast under the bonnet and, of late, the brilliant turbo six and the blown V8 from the performance arm, FPV. But no mention of Ford Australia can go without these four letters: GT-HO. Released in 1971, as part of the XY Falcon range, the GT with Handling Option, Phase 3, was seen as the pinnacle, at the time, of Ford’s product range. The now infamous photo from Wheels magazine of a GT-HO screaming down a deserted Hume Highway at 145 miles per hour permanently imprinted the blue oval brand into Australia’s automotive consciousness.

So where did it all go wrong for the Falcon? Sales of large cars in Australia, specifically the Falcon and Commodore, have been in a downward spiral for years. The release of the Territory effectively signed the death warrant of the Falcon wagon whilst simultaneously adding to the SUV climb. The reluctance of Ford US to allow a working export program (in 2012 Ford Oz exported just 100 Territorys) in the face of Holden’s success with the Commodore and Statesman/Caprice whilst Toyota has also been moderately successful with the Camry/Aurion has to be considered as a loss of incoming revenue, while Phase 3 GT-HOsmall to medium cars, with the growth of families being a DINK (Double Income, No Kids) or needing room ostensibly seen as unavailable in a wagon playing into the hands of the SUV market, plus some clever marketing  (you don’t have a SUV? Horrified gasp. What’s WRONG WITH YOU?) has also come into play and can all be seen as a contributing factor in their own right.

Ford has signed off on a Falcon and Territory update for a 2014 release, with October 2016 being inked in as the close up shop date for their manufacturing plants. Graziano confirmed that their engineering centre will continue to offer input into world engineering designs and keeping around 1500 jobs safe. But there’s lingering questions about how Ford AU has been given in the order of one billion Australian dollars since 2000 and still arrived at hohohothis, literally, dead end. To use that cliched phrase, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Australia will be down to just two manufacturers and will see the end of something two communities have had as part of their own, individual, histories for a long time. 1200 jobs lost, spread out over 23 million people, is a very small percentage and would be, on its own, a worrying thing. Broadmeadows and Geelong, however, will have to shoulder that number between them. But worse still will be the day that another part of history in Australia ceases to be created. And that loss is incalculable.

 

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