July 25, 2007

Horse 785 - Phoenix Focus From the Flames

Ford Australia anounced in the space of less than 24 hours that the engine plant which has been manufacturing the same 6 cylinder engine for the past 40 years will shut down. They've also announced almost in the same breath that the Ford Focus will start to be built in Oz from 2011 onwards. As far am I'm concerned, the only surprise is that anyone was surprised.

The Falcon itself dates back to 1960 when it was built in the US as Ford's "smaller" car. The staple engines for the car for the next 24 years were the 4.1L in-line 6, the 302 Winsdor V8 and the 351 Cleveland V8.

By the time the EA rolled around, the 4.1 was dropped in capacity to 3.9L to allow fuel-injection. The Cleveland was dropped never to return and the Windsor also fell out of favour. Although Holden had retained it's 5L V8, this was esentially the beginning of the end of them as far as V8's were concerned for a regular family car.

The Falcon has in recent years slowly been losing its market share generally as smaller and more efficient cars like the Corolla, Astra and even Mazda's 3 have been swiping sales from under it. The Corolla has in fact as we speak stolen the top sales spot away from even the Holden Commodore.

Enter the Focus.

The Ford Focus was already Europe's biggest selling car because of higher petrol prices. It also does very well in North America where it fulfils the role of Ford's smallest car. Although Ford will sell the Mondeo here later this year (and I personally think they should ditch the Falcon altogether in favour of it and start making that here), having the Focus as an Australian built car should give the local firm a decent say in how it's going to be put together. Arguably the proving grounds at You Yangs are the toughest in the world, which should also in theory give the Focus an edge in the WRC.

The main problem here is that the Focus is an entirely sensible motor car. When Top Gear left one in the streets of London as an unreleased car, it garnered no attention at all because of its bland styling. I suspect however the 2007 Mondeo should set the trend as to what the packaging will look like in the future.

I'm afraid it's a case of "populate or perish" for Ford. The Falcon is looking a bit long in the tooth and is the ideal car for Australia... of 1970.

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