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Ford ambushes rivals at show

Ford has hijacked the Motor Show by building its stand outside the exhibit building PIC JOHN FOTIADIS, NEWS LTD.

The company tricked the competition by taking space for just three cars inside the Darling Harbour Exhibition Centre for the Australian International Motor Show - but will have 14 cars on display outside.

The giant blue structure - made from shipping containers - is so big that from some angles you can’t see the entrance to the official motor show venue, which opens to the public this Friday. Rival brands only found out about Ford’s bold plan at the weekend when contractors began constructing the 4600 square metre site - about four times larger than the biggest stands inside the hall.

Ford’s arch rival Holden would not comment on the active display which will allow show goers to get behind the wheel of one of three new Fords at no charge. Tickets for the show, which runs from October 19 to 28, are $20 for adults and $45 for families. "If they don’t like it, they should have thought of it first," said Ford Australia public affairs director Sinead Phipps, when asked if the move had upset rival brands.

"We worked very closely with [event] organisers to do this. We believe this is going to change the face of motorshows in Australia." Show director Russ Tyrie said the Ford stand was "a very positive move for the show" and "an opportunity to engage with visitors, to actually get behind the wheel and drive the cars".

It is not the first time a car maker has had an outdoor driving display adjacent to the motor show - but it is the first time one brand has taken up so much space. After seven straight years of sales decline and record-low Falcon demand, Ford Australia is pulling out all stops to reverse its current slump.

After paying for "flashmobs" in Sydney and Melbourne last week, Ford is running a TV ad with singer John Farnham performing You’re the Voice - for what is believed to be a $1 million fee - to promote the voice recognition system that controls air-conditioning, phone and audio systems in some new Ford cars.

The chorus 'Try To Understand It' also has meaning; Ford modified the voice recognition system to respond to Australian accents after the earlier American and English systems struggled with the local drawl. Ford will have three test drives outside the show: a four-wheel-drive test course for its new Ranger ute, a road drive of its new Kuga softroader, and a demonstration of the self-parking and auto-braking technology in the new Focus small car.

Not to be outdone, Holden says show-goers will be able to test drive the new Volt plug-in hybrid electric car - but only after they register on the stand inside the exhibition centre. The Sydney Motor Show now occurs once every two years, alternating with Melbourne after both events struggled to attract visitors - and car makers became increasingly reluctant to pay millions for each display.

After next year’s show in Melbourne, the Sydney Motor Show will move from Darling Harbour to Olympic Park in 2014, where more car makers are expected to have outdoor displays and test drive opportunities.