Ford is rolling the dice on a last-ditch effort to win a stay of execution for its homegrown Falcon.
It has installed a fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine in the nose of the car that was once Australia's favourite but is now spiralling downwards on the sales charts as buyers flock to new-age SUVs and abandon old-style Aussie family cars.
The Falcon EcoBoost promises impressive fuel economy and performance that almost matches a traditional six-cylinder engine, with parity pricing starting at $37,235 despite the extra cost of the imported powerplant.
The EcoBoost package is more than just an engine, as Ford has overhauled its green leader with everything from improved aerodynamics and smoother suspension to a quieter cabin.
Ford denies it is too little or too late, even though it is only committed to the Falcon until 2016 and the successor is likely to be a global car with minor local tweaking and a Falcon badge for the Ford faithful.
"I don't think it's make-or-break for us, but EcoBoost continues to fill out the portfolio," says Bob Graziano, president of Ford Australia. "The timing is right. There are people who want four-cylinder cars and this provides us with an advantage, so hopefully we'll get onto some buy lists."
He says Ford is being deliberately conservative in its EcoBoost planning, only targeting 2000 sales by the end of the year despite the seachange switch in a car that has always been a six-cylinder and V8 staple.
"We're continuing to improve the Falcon. The efficiency, the performance, and moving with customer expectations and demands," says Graziano. "It's a very important launch for us. If you look at what customers want, EcoBoost is another tool in the toolkit."
The raw numbers are impressive, from the pricing to 179 kiloWatts of power and fuel economy of 8.1 litres/100km that is a huge improvement over the 9.9 of the Falcon six and 12.3 for the LPG-fuelled Falcon. But there is no four-cylinder engine for the Falcon ute or XR models, and towing capacity is down, although Ford says the engine will run happily on standard 91-octane unleaded petrol.
"It does provide us with an advantage. It also hopefully gives us an opportunity to talk to some folks that we haven't been able to with the existing powertrain lineup," says Graziano. He will not reveal the cost of the EcoBoost program, but says funding came from a $232 million local investment package announced in 2009.
Ford won another $103 million at the start of the year to continue improvements on the Falcon through to 2016, but it still amounts to another appeal for a car that's sitting on death row.