DETROIT/AUSTRALIA: Doomsday looms for big RWD Ford and Holden
Holden builds a full Commodore line including monocoque 'utes' (for utility aka pickup truck). There has been speculation a LHD variant could be exported to North America as a revived Chevrolet El Camino; previous generation models have been built for Pontiac
The full-size, rear-drive car battle between Ford and General Motors in Australia which has raged since 1960 looks like ending in 2016.
As the local Daily Telegraph put it: "[Holden and Ford's Falcon] duked it out at Bathurst [race circuit] and in the showrooms - while kids defended the honour of the family car in the schoolyard - but those days will soon be gone forever."
The Ford Falcon and Holden - latterly the Commodore but preceded by generations with names such as Special, Premier and Kingswood - which once so dominated sales charts they were thought untouchable, are now facing "the unthinkable", the paper reported, with both due to be phased out within months of each other at the end of 2016, marking the end of a battle that can be traced back to 1960 when the American Falcon was adapted for RHD to rival a fourth generation Holden first introduced as 'Australia's own car' in 1948. Previous big Fords had been sourced from Canada and the UK; the Falcon steadly moved away from the US design and was all-Aussie with the launch of the XA series in 1972. There was also a Chrysler Valiant rival from 1960 to 1980; this like the Falcon, was home-grown from the 1971 VH series and the Australian unit also developed its own line of I6 Hemi engines.
This week at the Detroit show, the Telegraph said, Holden inadvertently confirmed the Commodore's run was due to come to an end about the same time as the Ford Falcon's previously stated horizon.
That came a day after Holden admitted the jobs of the 320 workers at its Port Melbourne V6 engine plant were in jeopardy beyond the end of 2016 as car buyers shifted to four cylinder cars.
Holden boss Mike Devereux said: "VF (Commodore) will run through to the end of 2016. We have a plan to put a second (vehicle type) into the plant before 2017.''
The Elizabeth, South Australia, plant also builds Holden branded sedan and hatchback versions of the GM Korea Chevrolet Cruze.
The report noted Ford had said for some time the future of the Falcon and its Broadmeadows manufacturing facility were not guaranteed beyond the end of 2016.
From the 1960s, the plant, in a Melbourne suburb, built smaller UK-sourced models like the Escort, Capri and Cortina alongside the Falcon, switching in the early 1980s to rebadged Mazda replacements for the Escort and Cortina called Laser and Telstar. The plant also built a Laser-based convertible, also called Capri, which was sold locally as a Ford and shipped to North America as a Mercury.
But various government industry rationalisation plans later in the decade led to the lowering of import tariffs on imported cars and the end of CKD assembly of the smaller Fords by the '90s. Now the plant builds only the Falcon line and an SUV derivative called the Territory. Both Holdem and Ford export a proportion of their output, as does the other remaining local manufacturer, Toyota, but Ford does not do LHD cars which limits potential markets.
A plan some years ago to build the Focus in Australia, replacing imports from South Africa and Europe, fell through and Ford subsequently built a new plant in Thailand, which now supplies the Fiesta and Focus to Asia.
Ford Australia's public affairs director Sinead Phipps told the Daily Telegraph: "I can guarantee no decision has been made (to cease Australian production but) business after 2016 is under review."
Ford's Broadmeadows factory produced fewer cars last year than it did [when the Falcon was launched] in 1960, the report said.
The paper said Ford had rejected every viable option to replace the Falcon and Territory - including a small car, a seven-seat SUV and a heavy-duty, now the three biggest Australian market segments. Ford has said there would no longer be "one-off cars for one-off countries" [under its One Ford strategy].
"In the Ford world, the Falcon and Territory are orphans. Exports of a globally suitable Ford are unviable at the current exchange rates," the report said.
The automaker had yet to apply for federal or state government funding for a manufacturing programme beyond 2016.
The paper said it understood Holden plans to build a medium-size, four-cylinder, front-drive car, alongside the next generation Cruze, from 2017.
The rest of Holden's range comes largely from Korea or Thailand. Opel, some of whose models used to be rebadged as Holdens, and were even assembled locally in the 1990s, was recently launched as a standalone brand, with the cars imported from Europe.