Although it will cause barely a ripple in the international automotive ocean, Ford of Australia is poised to shock its local market by dumping its long-serving staple inline six-cylinder engine in favour of an imported American-designed V6.

The move, reported by online trade publication GoAuto News, is due to Australia’s adoption of more stringent Euro IV emissions laws from July next year for redesigned passenger cars and for all models from 1 July 2010.

Ford officially insists it is still considering options but local sources have told GoAuto that a decision would have to have been made already to meet the 2010 deadline.

The struggling Australian unit, which recently slashed prices on its locally designed and built Falcon passenger car and Territory crossover lines, is due to launch a redesigned Falcon on its new Orion platform next year with the current I6 and would have to modify or re-engine the car to meet the mid-2010 Euro IV deadline.

According to the report, Ford would have had to consider re-engineering the current ‘Barra’ six (likely to be too expensive), adapting an imported Duratec V6 to suit the rear-drive platform (and sorting noise and vibration issues inherent in the less smooth bent-six configuration), or setting up a local assembly operation to make the V6, as it does with the DOHC US V8s fitted to top-line models.

According to GoAuto News, Ford Australia has long stated it is actively pursuing export opportunities in an effort to return local production closer to its annual capacity of 120,000 vehicles and it would also make sense to harmonise potential engines with other Ford models that may eventually be based on the Orion Falcon platform, possibly including the next-generation Crown Victoria, Mustang coupe, Lincoln Town Car, Mercury Grand Marquis and a production vehicle based on the Interceptor concept revealed at the Detroit show last January.

The publication also mentioned recent local reports of the possibility of a third, smaller model line for Australia such as the European-designed Focus or Fiesta, or a still-secret small SUV known as ‘X-Max’.

Ford has previously built small cars in Australia – most recently the 1960s and 70s UK Escorts (Mark I and II)  and then the Mazda 323-derived Laser in the 1980s.

Ford Australia has offered inline sixes since 1906, according to the report.

The current DOHC six can trace its origins back to an American-designed OHV unit launched in the ‘localised’ US-designed Falcon way back in 1960. Ford Australia has designed its own Falcons – and recently-dropped long wheelbase Fairlane and LTD spin-offs – since 1972.

Arch-rival GM unit Holden dropped its own Chevrolet-derived inline sixes in 1986, replacing them with fully imported Nissan I6s for a couple of years and then locally-assembled imported Buick V6s. The local Chrysler operation was once famed for its ‘Slant Six’ and later ‘Hemi’ I6s but these disappeared when the automaker sold out to Mitsubishi in the 1980s.