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Mondeo might spawn next Ford Falcon

First up: The first model to appear on Ford's new C/D platform was North America’s new 2013 Fusion sedan, which debuted at the Detroit show last week.

Ford cuts global platform count, narrowing next Falcon’s options

17 Jan 2012

FORD’S all-new Mondeo platform will form the basis of at least 10 different new models – and Australia’s next Falcon and Territory could be among them.

In a repeat of the scenario under which the C-car platform of its newest Focus will underpin 10 upcoming compact models, Ford says a similar expansion of its next-generation C/D platform will further reduce cost and complexity and therefore increase the quality and value of its upcoming mid-size models.

Ford Motor Company president and CEO Alan Mulally said at last week’s Detroit motor show opening that the new C/D platform would eventually serve customers with one million vehicles a year with at least 10 different models coming by the end of 2014.

The first model to appear on the Blue Oval’s new C/D platform is North America’s new 2013 Fusion sedan, which made its global debut in Detroit, followed by sedan, hatch and wagon versions of Ford’s next Mondeo, which is expected to emerge at the Geneva show in March, for Europe, Asia and Australia.

However, Ford could also use the new platform for replacements for both its US-market Taurus sedan and Explorer SUV and Australia’s Falcon, the future of which is now guaranteed until the end of 2016 after a $103 million investment announced at Detroit.

27 center imageFrom top: Ford chiefs Alan Mulally, Jim Farley, Derrick Kuzak, J Mays and Joe Hinrichs.

Ford revealed at last week’s Automotive News World Congress that it will reduce the number of vehicle platforms it produces worldwide to just nine by 2013 – down from the 11 by 2014 it had previously targeted in an apparent acceleration of its aggressive One Ford product development strategy.

“It won't be 11 platforms (as earlier planned),” said Ford’s group vice-president of global marketing Jim Farley. “It will be nine by the end of 2013.”“It's a decision to accelerate the reduction of complexity,” he said, referring to the One Ford plan. "(Ford group vice-president of global product development) Derrick Kuzak and his team have committed to accelerating the process.”

Of the nine platforms, just five are global – B for Fiesta, C for Focus, C/D for Fusion/Mondeo, Light Truck for the Australian-designed Ranger ute, and Commercial for the Transit van.

The remaining four will be ‘regional’ platforms, including one for North America’s strong-selling F-Series truck, another for its iconic Mustang – which Ford has said will continue to be a unique rear-wheel drive model within its range – and perhaps another for Falcon, one of Ford’s oldest nameplates.

Ford has not revealed which platforms it will axe, but continues to target 85 per cent of its global sales from the reduced number of platforms.

While America’s current Fusion is based on a different platform to Europe and Australia’s existing Mondeo, which shares its basis with the Mazda6, about 80 per cent of components will be common to both next-generation Ford models.

However, a new global D/E large-car platform to underpin America’s next Taurus sedan continues to be conspicuous by its absence from the One Ford platform plan, increasing the likelihood that Ford will follow the lead of General Motors and Toyota by developing its next large car from its mid-size platform.

Toyota’s Camry forms the basis of Australia’s larger Aurion sedan, which is known as the premium Camry in other markets, while GM’s upcoming Malibu mid-sizer will form the basis for its next Impala large sedan for the US.

Just as Ford has stated that the current Falcon will be the last to be engineered solely for Australia, Holden’s new VF Commodore – which will be based on the same rear-drive Zeta platform as the current VE Commodore – is likely to make way for a model based on a different global GM platform beyond about 2018.

Mr Mulally told GoAuto at this month’s Delhi show that Ford would continue to offer a large car in Australia beyond the current Falcon, but which model that will be – and, more importantly for the Australian automotive industry, where it will be built – remains unknown.

Ford Australia and GM Holden continue to play vital roles in the development of new global models for their respective US parent companies, but the future of local large-car manufacturing by the end of this decade continues to be vague as ministers from both sides of politics remain in heated debate over the future of local manufacturing.

Ford axed its plan to produce the current Focus in Australia two years ago, leaving the Falcon and closely related Territory as its only two products at Broadmeadows, while Holden last year commenced production of the Cruze small car alongside the Commodore in Adelaide.

Plummeting global large-car sales and the surging Australian currency has all but eliminated the viability of exports for both companies for the foreseeable future, making more difficult the decision of Ford in particular what – if anything – to build at Broadmeadows.

However, it is clear the new C/D platform under the next Fusion/Mondeo will play an unprecedented role within Ford’s model portfolio beyond this year.

Mr Kuzak declined to reveal what other model derivatives would emerge from Ford’s new C/D platform in Detroit, saying only that is was “another example of how we’re using a ‘top-hat’ strategy to deliver very quickly with global platforms a range of new models for our customers.

“You can see that with our C-car platform with 10 models coming last year and this year.

“It’s a bit early to be talking about what the models are. The point is you can look at what we’ve done with the C-car platform, where you’ve seen already four-door, five-door Focus, you’ve seen the Escape/Kuga come off that platform, you’ve seen the C-Max Energi, the C-Max HEV, the Focus ST – and I’m probably forgetting something.

“But it’s that kind of top-hat strategy that we’ve already demonstrated on the C-car platform you’ll see replicated on the C/D platform.”

Mr Mulally said 2012 would be a milestone year for Ford, which had now firmly focussed its attention on the vital global mid-size segment.

“To start, it will be our most productive year for global car introductions in our entire history,” he said in Detroit.

“2012 also is significant as we take another major step in our global product development, introducing new models from all five of our global platforms - B-size, C, C/D, commercial vans and light trucks.

“In recent years, consumers have responded enthusiastically to our fiesta in the B segment, our Focus in the C segment and our Ranger pick-up.

“Now we turn our attention towards the world’s most competitive segment – the C/D mid-size segment.”

Of the 13 million vehicles sold in the US last year, two-thirds were mid-size sedans or compact SUVs. Of the six million cars sold, 30 per cent were mid-size, with medium cars accounting for four of the nation’s five top-selling models and representing up to two million sales.

Ford says the fortunes of the Fusion’s two fiercest rivals presented its greatest opportunity, with sales of the market-leading Camry and Honda Accord slumping 31 and 28 per cent between 2007 and 2010, while Fusion notched up its best sales year in 2011 with almost 250,000 sales to become Ford’s top ‘conquest’ model.

Ford’s global design chief J Mays told GoAuto a lot of the new Fusion’s most direct rivals had trod water or in some cases taken a step backwards.

“We wanted to build a car that looks like its costs $7000 or $8000 more than it does, so I hope we’ve achieved that,” he said.

“We’ve had this thing on the books now for about three years. We knew exactly what we wanted to create, so when we rolled the Evos show car out at Frankfurt we we’re trying to grease the skids for this thing.”

Earlier this month at the Delhi show, Mr Mays told GoAuto that Ford was still enthusiastic about large cars, but – as evidenced by the 2011 dethroning of Commodore as Australia’s top-selling vehicle after 15 years – customers were not.

Large cars comprised just 7.7 per cent of total vehicle sales in Australia last year, with mainstream model sales down 21.7 per cent. Falcon sales fell to their lowest point on record (down 36.5 per cent to just 18,741), while Commodore sales were down 11.6 per cent to just 40,617 – less than half the number Holden sold in 2002.

“Don’t get me wrong, I like big D/E cars, but the market doesn’t like them,” he said.

“It’s not a decision we’re making, it’s a decision the customers are making. They’re just not buying into that segment any more. And it’s not a function of Australia. It’s a function of anywhere in the world. That segment is shrinking.

“So the new large car – in a big way – is sort of the C/D car. And beyond the C/D car you’re getting into a very small piece of the market.

“We’ve had some success in the US with the Taurus, and there’s always somewhere in the world that will buy (into large cars), but to sustain that over the next 10 years will be really tough, I think.

“We previewed the new Fusion to the American press just before Christmas and we’re delighted with how that car looks. It’s an absolutely great-looking vehicle.”

Ford Australia hopes the addition of new LPI models last year, new turbo-four EcoBoost models in April and other upcoming fuel-saving technologies will help boost flagging Falcon sales.

But for now it remains tight-lipped out the future of the Falcon – and any other large Fords – beyond 2016.

Ford’s Asia-Pacific chief Joe Hinrichs told GoAuto in Delhi: “We haven’t said anything about D/E vehicle platforms globally.

“We’ve got Mustang, we’ve got Falcon and we’ve got Taurus, but we have time for it to evolve and see we’re we are going to go with that.

“We’ve already said that if we do another platform, it won’t be unique to Australia – and we’ve said that repeatedly – but we’re not there yet.

“In the meantime, Broadmeadows production has dropped, which concerns us … but that doesn’t mean we come to a conclusion that is pre-determined to an outcome to the future of manufacturing. I don’t think we have made that decision yet.

“We plan for alternatives – we’re a business – but we’re still investing in the (current) Falcon and Territory.

“Do you go to a global rear-wheel-drive platform for large cars? That’s a decision that needs to be made.

“We’ve said we’re doing global platforms on B, C and D, but that implies we’re not going to do global platforms on D/E. I won’t give you the answer to that, but there are two alternatives.

“(Ford CEO Alan Mulally said) ‘if or when we do another large car it will be on a global platform’, but we have Mustang that today is on its own platform and it’s a very important car in our portfolio. That’s why it’s complicated.

“We have a strategy we’re trying to adhere to, but at the same time we’re trying to make business decisions.

“I’m sensitive to the issues and all the interest in it. There’s a lot of passion around Falcon in Australia – believe me, I get emails. I appreciate it. We love that.

“We’ll tell people of our plans when we’re ready to tell them … but it is fascinating to me that the people draw the conclusions that all these decisions have been made, when we’re sitting here asking the same thing.

“We’re playing it year by year, but at the same time we’re looking to where the business is going.

“One thing that’s changed lately is that the (large-car) segment has shrunk faster than we expected this time last year, and that’s a new dynamic we have to deal with. We weren’t expecting just 20,000 Falcons in 2011.”

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