Final NZ Falcon delivery still weeks away

The beginning of the end of car making in Australia starts today.


EXPECTATION is that the last Territory sports utility allocated to New Zealand will be homed by early next year and there’s probability the final Falcon will be allocated as early as next month.

Ford New Zealand says it cannot yet be more specific than this about the local market placement for models that begin their final drive into history with today’s closing of the Ford car assembly and engine making plants in Victoria, the beginning of the end for the Australian mass-production car industry.

The very last Falcon built, a Kinetic blue XR6 sedan, rolled out of the plant this morning; with photos of its assembly progress being posted on the Fans of Falcon Facebook page and also reproduced here. It will go down in history as the 3,853,437th and last Australian-made Falcon from a plant that produced its first car with this nameplate in 1960.

Where’s the last car going? Not to New Zealand.

Local market spokesman Tom Clancy has confirmed one last mixed shipment of the DNA-shared product is on the way, but that ship is already heading across the Tasman.

“They’re still coming over – I there is one more shipment of Falcon and Territory to land – and we think the final Falcon will be delivered next months,” says the Auckland-based communications and Government affairs manager.

He says the latter car will very likely be an XR but a regular edition rather than the special edition XR Sprint.

Says Clancy: “I’m pretty sure it will be a regular XR. Our Sprints were all allocated and spoken for some time ago, they were sold out pretty early – the XR8s went quick and the XR6s were gone by mid-year.”

New Zealand has also already had its fill of the Falcon utility, for many years now a niche product in this market but a car that has apparently seen some resurgence of interest since the start of the year.

The last one of those rolled off the Broadmeadows production line at the end of July, and the engine plant in Geelong produced its last two engines – -  a 5.0-litre V8 imported from the United States but tweaked in Australia and a home-grown 4.0-litre straight six, both set to be kept by the company as standalone display items - at the end of September.

All New Zealand’s last Broadmeadows’ cars seem likely to end up in customer hands, whereas vehicles from the final run that are remaining in Australia are becoming prizes.

For instance, those 660 Victorian Ford factory workers who will be without a job come tonight are in a ballot that will see six of them win identical Falcon XR6 sedans – not a bad bonus to go with those final pay packets.

The final saleable Falcon ute and sedan and Territory SUV allocated to the Australian market – that's the XR6 four-door plus a diesel silver Territory Titanium turbodiesel and a Smoke grey Falcon XR6 Turbo Ute – will be auctioned to raise money to attract future generations of engineers to the automotive industry via a schools’ robotics programme.

The proceeds will help students in Geelong and Broadmeadows to compete in a global robotics competition under Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM) programmes.

The auction is the brand’s last planned official sign-off to the conclusion of 91 years of car making across the Tasman, an effort that began so modestly with Ford workers taking over a disused wool store in Geelong to use it as a site to assemble Model Ts shipped across in boxes from Canada.

Of course, there might be another sign-off for Falcon on Sunday, should that car enjoy a win on the Mt Panorama racing circuit.

There’d be certain irony in that insofar that this nameplate especially benefited in its Bathurst heyday from the concept of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” but race fans here should do the right thing and give a cheer for our two Kiwi Falcon outfits.

Fabian Coulthard is in the No.9 Penrite DJR Team Penske FG X, shared with Aussie Luke Youlden, while Richie Stanaway and Chris Pither have teamed up in an identical 111 Super Black Racing machine, the only all-Kiwi-run car in the field.

How long the Falcon – or even Ford will keep racing in the Supercar category is an open question. Ford Australia’s direct support was pulled long ago and Detroit has signaled the Mustang is not cut out for brand-backed racing in the Australian series, which would be a shame because the American coupe clearly has a lot of Kiwi buyer support.

That has not been the case for Falcon. Though the Sprint was snapped up, overall the big sedan has steadily lost fan support; 1170 sales in 2012 fell to 896 the next year, then to 650 and 647 in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Clancy was unable to unearth year-to-date count for 2016 but the assumption is that it would have been lower than for the same period of 2015.

Territory has also been in decline, but much less markedly: The big upswing in sales of sports utilities and crossovers has been well-timed for a model that, though a landmark when new, has suffered from lack of ongoing development.

Ford NZ has amassed a Territory stockpile to last into next year – the initial hope was that the supply dump would not exhaust until June, but now they seem to think it might be exhausted earlier. Once the last Territory goes, Ford will be without a medium-large car-based SUV until the Edge arrives from Canada in 2018.

Falcon’s demise was inevitable; large cars are increasingly losing favour here and in Australia and the Ford has, for the last few years, looked increasingly out of date, not least in comparison with the Holden Commodore – still a genuinely modern car in most respects.

Had Ford Australia not wanted to stand by a promise to keep manufacturing until today, thus making good on a big Government assistance handout, Falcon might well have been dropped years ago.

It’s a sad final chapter, but the Falcon story as a whole makes for great reading. Time was when this car was the king of the road. Certainly, it has a much longer brand heritage than Commodore. And, unlike the Holden, the Falcon for much of its life was a truly all-Aussie car.

On a human level, there is nothing worse than watching plants close and real people who have given decades of service to companies lose their livelihoods. Today will be hugely emotional.

It’s no coincidence that a closure announced three years ago enacts on Bathurst weekend, when petrolheads are enjoying their annual fix and will be on a high.

Holden is also making the most of the occasion. Even though its Commodore build programme will continue for another 12 months, today is also when GM’s local arm closes its Adelaide assembly line for the Cruze small car. Doubtless it was figuring this smaller action will seem much less newsworthy than a whole plant closing.

The one question that need not be asked about all this is ‘why’.

The strong Australian dollar, high labour costs, changing buyer tastes and an intensely competitive market, with more than 60 different brands were the death knell. Another influence: Resentment that billions of taxpayer dollars were spent propping up the Aussie auto industry. One Ford, a policy out of Detroit that promotes that all Blue Oval product be tailored for global consumption, also kyboshed Falcon and Territory. It made no sense to make cars that had no potential beyond two countries.

In a year’s time, we will be writing closure stories about Holden and Toyota. Once they are gone, the country that gave the world the Ute, Panel Van, Baby Capsules, rack and pinion steering will be completely out of the car-building game.

But it will maintain a role in the business.

About 80 Broadmeadows employees more will stay on until June next year to help out as the company completes the transition from local manufacturing to full-line importer. (Broadmeadows itself is expected to die slowly. Ford expects the decommissioning and sale of its industrial assets in Australia to take up to three years, starting with disconnection of electricity and other services from a multitude of machines to make them safe for removal for sale or scrap).

A further 60 will be transferred from manufacturing to Ford Asia-Pacific’s growing vehicle development operation in Australia, joining almost 100 others who have already made the transition to mainly support jobs for the engineers and designers working on global car programmes in design and engineering centres in and around Melbourne.

Few of those whose livelihood with the Blue Oval ends today will head into unemployment. The GoAuto motoring website reports that Ford’s $A10 million investment in government job-creation schemes has borne more fruit than expected, with nearly twice as many jobs as expected pledged by employers in the Geelong and Broadmeadows areas. So, rather than a deluge of jobless pouring on to the market with the end of Ford production, many of the eligible workers have either accepted jobs elsewhere or are planning to take up other employment.

Still, it won’t be the same. Never again will we see an Australian automotive dynasty like the one shared between Ford and Holden. Broadmeadows’ closure also ends that intensely fierce inter-marque competition that, for the past six decades, has inspired countless families to choose to be pro-Ford or pro-Holden.

When Falcon launched back in the 1950s, Holden was dominating the market. Ford needed a sales ace. On a visit to Detroit in 1958, they saw the XK Falcon.

The car that launched Downunder two years later had a 144 cubic inch (2.36-litre) overhead valve six-cylinder engine producing 67kW (90 horsepower). The current Falcon’s 4.0-litre six-cylinder makes three times as much now, but back in the day that impressed. XK was able to reach 140kmh, about 10kmh more than the rival from Holden.

Yet what was essentially a right hand version of the American car struggled to survive on Australia’s rough-and-tumble roads. This spurred suspension changes. An equally watershed moment was in 1964, when the XM launched with an Australian-designed body.

For the true Ford devotees, the love affair began in 1967 with the XR GT. That's where the performance heritage of the brand was formed, courtesy of a 168kW 289-cu-in /4.7-litre Windsor V8 engine, sourced from the Mustang. Winning Bathurst, it fired what was the first salvo in the Ford versus Holden muscle car war.

It’s great that the last lines about Falcon might well be written on the strength of a last blast for victory at Mount Panorama on Sunday.

The Mountain for so long proved to be a pivotal marketing source for both brands; back in the '70s especially. In those days the vehicles in showrooms were not vastly different from those on the track, so part of the Falcon's appeal was the whole family could go along for the ride, in spirit at least, around the world’s finest road-derived race course.

They probably still do. The problem is that those who consider themselves Ford and Holden supporters on the big weekend are nonetheless not brand-wed in respect to their daily driving choices.

That, more than anything else, is what has killed the Falcon and will kill the Commodore. Because sales are all that matter – and, for years now, too many of those 'diehard' supporters has just been all talk.