Ford Australia boss Geoff Polites is "pretty comfortable'' his designers have done enough to win back buyers disaffected by the ill-fated AU Falcon, writes Mike Duffy.

But the Ford president said engineering and launch costs associated with the facelifted model - due for release in the second half of next year - would keep the company profitless until 2003.

"I visited the design studio today and had a long, hard look at the car," Mr Polites said in an interview with just-auto.

"I feel prettycomfortable with what we've done.

"You can never be sure with these issues - my predecessors probably felt comfortable with the AU.

"But research we've done is pretty positive.

"We've done a lot of work on this car."

The second major facelift to the Falcon could very well determine whether Ford Australia gets the nod from its global parent to build the next all-new Australian large car, due for release in 2004 or 2005.

Certainly, the "half-life update" will have to be quite dynamic for the Falcon to get back on terms with its long-time rival, GM's Holden Commodore.

Falcon lost the 1997 Australian big car battle by a seemingly meagre 4993 units after selling 71,850 sedans and wagons.

The following year, Ford faithful jumped ship in large numbers following the September launch of the new AU-series range, with most of the criticism and angst aimed at the rear end slope-off styling.

Series II version of current Australian AU Ford Falcon
will have new sheet metal
front and rear

Strategic Review-

Ford


The new car finished its first year 25,884 sales behind the Commodore.

Last year the gap was 23,150 - despite a $A40 million ($US20.3 million) remake and relaunch as the AUII.

In the first six months of 2001, 42,235 Commodores were sold compared with a paltry 24,944 Falcons - a gap of 17,291.

The Falcon's woes will grow dramatically within months when the facelifted Series VXII Commodore comes to market to keep sales ticking over.

Understandably, Ford's Polites is not prepared to detail changes to the Falcon AUII - nor the series initials by which it will be known.

"It has new front and rear end sheet metal," he said.

"The car is progressional. It retains the roof and doors.'"

The Ford chief said the company was on target to meet this year's break-even budget.

Last year Ford Australia lost $A16 million ($US8.1 million) - its first deficit since 1993 - following an $A83 million profit in1999.

"Our objective is not to lose money this year," Polites said.

"It's going to be touch and go because we have such enormous engineering expenses going on at the moment relating to the Falcon up-date."

"Next year we've got a lot of launch costs.

"If we can break even this year and next year we'll be doing OK."

Polites confirmed he still wanted to produce an all-wheel-drive version.

"An all wheel drive Falcon would depend on whether we can get the business case up.

"It's not an easy business case to sell.

"We would be applying in an environment [at Ford headquarters] in the United States which is not conducive to spending money.

"The corporation has tightened up a lot. I wish I was going last year for approval, I would have had a much better hearing."

Author Mike Duffy is motoring editor of The Advertiser and the Sunday Mail, Adelaide, South Australia.


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