The future is divided, writes Paul Gover in Detroit
THE future of Australia’s two homegrown hero cars, the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore, is about to diverge in the most dramatic twist since the introduction of the original Commodore in 1978.
Ford will head down a new global road — most likely with an all-wheel-drive Falcon twinned with the Taurus and Explorer SUV in the US — that could mean an end to Australian production.
Holden is close to renewing a commitment to a rear-drive replacement to the VE Commodore.
Decisions on the Falcon and Commodore that come after 2015 must be made inside the next year. The last time the two Aussie heroes split so dramatically was after the introduction of the downsized, European-based VB Commodore that replaced the Holden Kingswood at a time when fuel efficiency looked a top priority.
It came in 1978, but Ford stayed with a full-size XE Falcon to counter the new contender in 1979 and eventually was rewarded when Australians made it No.1.
This time, Ford faces a global pull while Holden uses its success as leverage for a renewed Australian commitment.
Ford Australia denies any urgency and says no decisions have been made , even though the com- pany’s global styling boss suggests a deal is nearly done.
‘‘I know that rear-wheel drive is very important to the Australian market, but we’re not talking about that right now.
‘‘ We’re looking at it, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath,’’ says J. Mays, speaking this week at the North American International Auto Show. ‘‘Chances are it will be all-wheel drive.
‘‘We’re pretty confident we can find the right answer.
‘‘The same things that appeal in a rear-wheel-drive car in Australia appeal to a rear-wheel-drive car in the United States.’’
The reason for the global drive to integrate the Falcon and end its ‘‘orphan’’ status in the new One Ford world driven by company CEO Alan Mulally, is obvious to American analyst Bob Hall.
‘‘It’s too rickety. They let it go too long without giving it the stuff you need for success in the 21st century,’’ says Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics and a man with a lot of experience of the Australian motor industry.
He’s blunt on any chance of continuing with a unique Australian Falcon built at Broadmeadows.
‘‘I don’t see how they can do it,’’ Hall says.
‘‘ We will know in the next six months what the future of the Commodore — the next generation — will look like
But Ford Australia deflects talk of change.
‘‘Development of the futuremodel Falcon is under way as part of Ford’s normal product development plans.
‘‘Design and engineering proposals are being considered by the company’s teams, but a plan has not yet been approved,’’ company spokesman Peter Fadeyev says.
‘‘No decisions about the design nor on the platform have been made or locked in.
‘‘At this point, it’s too early to provide any specific details about future Falcon models.’’
Holden is much closer to a decision and, ironically, if Ford moves away from rear-wheel drive, it’s more likely to continue with a car that’s a re-work of the basic VE Commodore package.
Holden will also look at a front or all-wheel drive package but company president Mike Devereux says rear-drive is more likely.
‘‘We will know in the next six months what the future of the Commodore— the next generation — will look like,’’ the company president says.
‘‘We looked at everything, that’s what all car makers do, that’s the prudent thing to do.
‘‘But we are under no obligation to go that way, Holden can choose its own path.
‘‘The rear-drive sedan may not be flavour of the month in other countries, but it’s still very much alive in Australia,’’ he says.
‘‘If we can deliver the right [size] and the right economy, we can continue on the path we’re on.’’
Big difference: the manufacturing of Ford and Holden vehicles could soon head in different directions.