The Falcon to die

Posted on May 28th, 2013 in Automotive News,Driving Emotion,Ford,Opinion by Julian Edgar

If you follow cars in Australia, I am sure that you have heard the news. Ford has decided to stop building cars here, and unless there is a radical change of mind, production of the Falcon will stop within a few years.

This has occurred primarily because of dwindling sales of the Falcon – a car that went from selling around 75,000 units per year in 2002 to about 12,000 in 2012.

That is a tragedy: a tragedy for the workers directly employed by Ford, and also for the workers of supply companies that will now likely go broke. It is also sad for the country as a whole: having the capability to design and manufacture as complex an item as a complete car is not to be sneezed at.

But it is also the outcome of a bunch of utterly stupid management and product planning decisions made by Ford itself. For all the talk of high wages, the value of the Australian dollar and the like, no one should refrain from looking hard at what Ford in Australia chose to spend their money on.

The FG Falcon, released in April 2008, was a car characterised by utterly misplaced priorities, to an extent that was staggering then and remains staggering in retrospect. In 2008, the downwards trend in Falcon sales had been in place for four years. People were moving from the Falcon to smaller cars – or, conversely, to large and multi-purpose four-wheel drives.  Social and engineering change in the world of cars was profound: the Prius had been on sale for nearly a decade; fuel prices were only going to keep on rising; and people were looking for flexibility in their cars – the ability to carry five people one day, and then carry big items home from the hardware store the next. All of this was obvious… but not to Ford.

The day after the FG Falcon was released, I wrote in this publication:

It’s very hard to believe that the Falcon will not go the way of the Mitsubishi 380 – and for much the same reasons. High quality engineering directed in completely the wrong direction, aiming at a target that started to move a decade ago and has now gone…

After driving the car we published these notes:

Feels very much like Mitsubishi 380 in that the FG is a car that with exception of some minor electronics, could have been released a decade ago – nothing special in performance/economy, interior space utilisation, interior design, styling (inside and out). Highly competent car but at the things (eg handling, long distance cruising, NVH) that are not a priority for most people.

A ‘nothing’ car in terms of progress. Feels like design priorities were set for what would work in mid Nineties – RWD handling, long distance Australian road travel, inoffensive (and unexciting) conventional styling inside and out. Needs – far better fuel economy option (eg diesel, LPG on downsized engine), much better interior design (literally zero progress made here!), better centre dash ergonomics.

My summary in a full road test of the car was:

With the exception of crash safety and the electronic stability control system, the FG Falcon reflects the design priorities of a different era. In short, Ford apparently believes balls-to-the-wall handling to be more important than fuel economy, and in-cabin styling to be more important than practicality. Simply, the money could have been much better spent.

New engine options – including possibly a diesel – are apparently coming, but as the car stands right now, it’s the epitome of a botched opportunity.

Of course, the diesel never came. Instead, we had that Ford choosing to sell the car with an engine range that included two high performance, thirsty engines – a V8 and turbo six.

One hi-po engine – sure. But two? What did they think this was, the 1980s?

And the issue with wasting internal resources like this is that those dollars could have been put into something else – like fitting a four cylinder. It took until 2012 to do that…

In a column written in December 2009, under the heading of ‘Making very bad product planning decisions’ I said:

The car that this year amazed me the most was the Ford FG Falcon.

The model that I would think sells the best – the XR6 – was incredibly off the pace in the things that matter to most purchasers. All I can say is: what on earth was Ford thinking when they set the priorities?

But to be honest, I could not – and still cannot – believe how bad the FG Falcon is…. and ‘bad’ in the context of what the car is supposed to achieve.

Why on earth did the company spend lots of money on a new front suspension design and steering when out on the road, pushing the car to anywhere near its very high limits is illegal? To put this another way, in virtually all road use, what was wrong with the previous model’s suspension?

That (rumoured) $100 million spent on the new front suspension could have been used to make the air conditioning actually work and improve interior packaging – both would have had far more positive impact on potential purchasers than getting better turn-in at 150 km/h…

And the fuel consumption!

Forget the official government test figures: at a measured 12.5 – 13.5 litres/100km in the city, there appears to be no real-world improvement in a decade. That is simply unforgiveable.

The Falcon angers and frustrates me. The decisions that Ford’s myopic product planners took, in the face of overwhelming worldwide evidence, has cost this country – and Ford – a lot of jobs and money.

At the time these words were being published, our comments section (which unfortunately is not currently visible) was full of people saying how wrong I was.

The automotive journalists in Australia – every darn one of them – said how great the car was. Other than AutoSpeed, not a single publication suggested that the car was utterly wrong for the time and would be a flop – probably sending Ford under in terms of manufacturing in this country. “FG Falcon stuns” read one media test headline. Stuns for what – its inept direction? No, the test didn’t actually say that…

In fact, I was so amazed by the lack of criticism of Ford’s approach with the FG that I wrote a bitterly ironic column with the sole focus being how stupid the decisions underpinning the FG were. I called the Falcon The Ideal Car for the Times.

So why did Ford chose to make the decisions it did?

We will probably never know…. those who set the direction are hardly likely to confess – let alone, try to justify what they did. And sure, Ford was working within tight limitations regarding money and resources – but that just made it even more important that those product planning and engineering decisions showed an understanding of a changing car buying market – not to mention societal change on a broader scale.

But I honestly feel more depressed about it all than triumphant. I am sad to see part of Australia’s engineering and industrial heritage disappear…and once it has gone, you can be certain it will never come back.

Changing the way you think about electric vehicles

Posted on March 17th, 2009 in Automotive News,Driving Emotion,Economy,Electric vehicles,Global Warming,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Today’s AutoSpeed article on electric vehicles is, as the box in the article states, based on a seminar given by Dr Andrew Simpson.

Dr Simpson produced the paper that we used as the foundation for the Assessing the Alternatives article we ran about a year ago – it’s amongst the very best of articles you’ll find in deciding which fuels vehicles should be using.

Andrew Simpson has just returned to Australia from four years in the US, where he worked at the US Government National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado, and then was a Senior R&D engineer at Tesla Motors.

I found his seminar quite riveting: it changed my views on a host of subjects relating to electric cars.

Avoiding New Car Dealer Tricks

Posted on October 23rd, 2008 in Automotive News,Opinion by Julian Edgar


Top 5 car dealer tricks

Buying a new car can be a big decision and sometimes a stressful one. Going from dealer to dealer, getting the best price, working out trade-in value and arranging finance is not always a straightforward task and there are those who may prey on this confusion., Australia’s biggest online car buying service, can help to make car buying easy, offering independent advice on vehicle selection, a high standard of service and can save you approximately 15 percent off the dealer price.

“We do all the hard work for our customers,” said Private Fleet director David Lye. “We know all the tricks of the trade and like most industries there are dealers out there that don’t have customer’s best interests at heart.”

Private Fleet can help you to avoid the tricks some car dealers play on unwitting customers, however if you plan to go out there alone, here are the top five dealer tricks to be aware of.

1) The sacrificial lamb

This is where you see an advertisement for a car that seems to be priced very low, well below the competition. You then call up and are invited to go in and have a look, however when you get to the dealership, the car has strangely and coincidently been sold! Although the dealer is quick to assure you that they have other similar cars in stock, though not with the same low price tag.

Tip: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Without radical action, the end could be near

Posted on August 25th, 2008 in Automotive News,Driving Emotion,Global Warming,Hybrid Power by Julian Edgar

I am starting to wonder if the problems that Ford and Holden are facing in this country with their large cars – the Falcon and the Commodore – are going to be possible to remedy.

Holden is now talking a whole range of environmental and fuel-efficiency measures – from E85 compatibility to reducing weight – and Ford, despite having just released a brand new model, has already made public the next engine option, a diesel.

As I have written previously, both companies have only themselves to blame for their current woes – they were happy completely ignoring the changing marketplace and blindly heading down an ever-increasingly irrelevant path. It’s obvious they expected the market to change to suit them, rather than build cars that suited the buying public. That applies especially to Ford, a company that with the FG Falcon, had years more time to prepare for the changing times than Holden had with the VE Commodore.

But what makes me think that they may have lost it big-time is what I am seeing more and more: Holden and Ford are rapidly losing their loyal long-term potential car-buyers.

Now, self-evidently, they have lost some of these already; otherwise Ford wouldn’t be sacking production workers and releasing a market-special FG seemingly only minutes after the new Falcon was released; and Holden Commodores wouldn’t be being outsold (let’s talk private buyers) by a helluva lot more than just a couple of other car models.

Insurance where you pay only for the distance you travel!

Posted on August 20th, 2008 in Automotive News,Driving Emotion by Julian Edgar

An Australian company has launched a car insurance scheme where your annual insurance cost depends on how many kilometres you travel.

This is significant for those who drive only to public transport, and also for those who choose to own multiple cars and drive each only for its best purpose.

The website is self-explanatory and I found the quoting quick and easy – and very interesting!

As you’d expect, it is beneficial only if the car does less than the average number of kilometres, but for those cars, it looks like insurance costs can be way lower than the current norm.

It’s Mitsubishi’s own fault

Posted on February 6th, 2008 in Automotive News,Mitsubishi,Opinion by Julian Edgar

380-image.jpgSo Mitsubishi’s Adelaide car manufacturing plant is to close. The Mitsubishi 380, the large sedan released in 2005, has proved to be a flop.

Now, and over the next few months, there will be a prolonged post mortem, analysing the reasons why the car failed. Already, I’ve seen statements excusing Mitsubishi Motors Australia from culpability for its failure.

But to anyone not wearing rose-coloured glasses, manufacturing by Mitsubishi in Adelaide has been doomed since the very day of the 380’s release. The company – perhaps driven by their masters in Japan – made the atrocious decision to build and release a car that had no market.

And this is not a retrospective, wise after the event, summary.

Touring plans…

Posted on October 18th, 2007 in Automotive News,Driving Emotion,pedal power by Julian Edgar

Regular readers will know that when it comes to shopping, I am happiest digging through the junk at a tip shop, foraging at garage sales or even – if this can be called ‘shopping’ – picking up stuff that others have dumped by the side of the road. In short, glittering neon’d shops and my version of fun don’t go together. (Except, it needs to be said, when buying cameras or watches…)

So today was very unusual. I spent nearly all day with my wife Georgina and 3-year-old son Alexander shopping for brand new items: assessing and evaluating; picking up things, weight being felt in hand; turning products over and over while assessing quality; even putting some things down on the ground and lying on them. Yes, right there in the shop.

And when the day was finished, we’d spent something like AUD$700.

So what were we buying? Camping gear!

After doing a long drive in a diesel Hyundai i30 fell through, both Georgina and I felt all psyched-up for a tour. The Hyundai trip was going to have been a very long one, but when I was mulling-over its cancellation, I realised that the distance travelled wasn’t of that much importance. In fact, in my view, neither was the fact that it was to be done in a car.

Then, almost of its own volition, the thought popped into my head: why not go touring on our trikes?

Both Georgina and I are enormous fans of recumbent pedal trikes. These vehicles, which are simply nothing like a bicycle to pedal, incorporate stability and cornering fun in a way impossible to imagine if you’ve not experienced it. (In Georgina’s trike-selling business, over three-quarters of those who book a test ride buy a trike.) 

Keeping mechanics honest?

Posted on September 12th, 2007 in Automotive News by Julian Edgar

An interesting press release:


Mechanics and car dealerships that overcharge for services and repairs will now be caught because one of their ‘own’ has created a new business that guarantees fair prices for car owners.

The brainchild of Richard Palmer, a mechanic for more than 22 years, ausQuote protects its customers, from being intimidated by mechanics and paying for parts and labour at unfair prices, or worse yet, for parts and labour that are not even required or supplied.

Prior to any work being undertaken on the car, the mechanic’s quote is sent to ausQuote who carefully assess it and report back to the car owner on whether they are being charged too much and what repairs should be undertaken and at what cost.
Mr Palmer was inspired to start ausQuote after his grandmother was quoted $1596 for a roadworthy certificate in 2004 when all the car really needed was a new headlight globe at a total cost $105!