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Ford Australia boss leaves earlier than expected

Ford Australia's Bob Graziano.

Detroiter Bob Graziano said he would stay to oversee the Ford Australia factory closures. But today he announced his retirement from the company he served for 32 years.

The boss of Ford Australia, Bob Graziano, has announced he will leave the company earlier than expected, after having promised to oversee the closure of the Broadmeadows and Geelong factories in October 2016.

Aged 55, Mr Graziano's departure has come as a surprise given that car industry leaders tend not to retire until 65

Mr Graziano, who has led Ford locally for the past five years and was the first of Australia's three car manufacturers to announce a shutdown, has announced he will retire at the end of the month.

Aged 55, Mr Graziano's departure has come as a surprise given that car industry leaders tend not to retire until 65. But Ford says Mr Graziano, who has worked for Ford for 32 years, decided it was time to move on and return to Detroit to join his wife and five children, who moved back to the US 18 months ago after Mr Graziano extended his three-year contract.

"Yes he's young, but the transition to a sales company was always going to happen and now is a good time, a natural point," said Ford Australia spokesman Wes Sherwood. The announcement of Mr Graziano's departure comes as Ford sales in Australia this year have fallen by 20 per cent, and last year the company posted its lowest annual tally since 1966.

Since the announcement of the factory closures, Mr Graziano "has provided the stability we needed ... (but) this was a natural point as we set up a national sales company," said Mr Sherwood. Mr Graziano will be replaced by Briton Graeme Whickman, who has been Ford's Australia's head of sales and marketing for the past 18 months and has worked for Ford globally for 18 years.

Ford Australia insists the factory will not close early even though sales of the Falcon and Territory are weak. "We are on track with our plan for our manufacturing transition in October 2016," said Mr Sherwood.

Mr Graziano said in a media statement: "Leading the team in Australia through such an important and difficult time has been an honour.

"The progress we have made on transforming the business in the last two years has been dramatic – completely rethinking the experience our dealers deliver to our customers and dramatically improving sales and service satisfaction, securing robust agreements that will allow our manufacturing employees to move on from Ford with dignity and hope, announcing our new office near central Melbourne, and ensuring we can continue to serve our customers with 20 new vehicles by 2020."