Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ford Australia - Fall Into Line!

Apparently the body language at this year’s auto show in Detroit said much more than the words uttered by Alan Mullally, J. Mays and the Media Minders. Get used to it Australia, the rear wheel drive Ford Falcon is really on its last legs this time!

I can only say, “About time.” Ford’s new CEO Alan Mullally has been spruiking the ‘One Ford’ policy for quite a while, but Ford Australia doesn’t seem to be listening. And, it should. The local offshoot of the Dearborn giant has made many serious missteps in recent years, all for the sake of keeping these indigenous Fords alive - and ultimately it will have been a waste of time, as well as money.

It’s not rocket science, really. The large passenger car market has been losing share every year for more than a decade, and despite the valiant efforts of Marin Burela to breathe life into Ford Australia, and designer Scott Savage’s brilliant attempt to keep Falcon relevant, the company has wasted time in not developing a coherent strategy for the future.

What’s wrong with a ‘One Ford’ sedan that’s all-wheel-drive?

One could be forgiven for thinking that the Falcon has been treated like a rare religious icon - its existence sacrosanct, and to be preserved at all costs. Clearly, Ford Australia has been guilty of too much Falcon-centric thinking.

Ford Australia is not only deeply in-debt to Dearborn, but also deeply in denial. Let it go, for heaven’s sake. Preserving this anachronism has just staved off the inevitable.

There’s been too much deference to populism, emotion and plain old sentimentality. If past Ford Presidents had been truly responsible they would all have been playing a part in planning a post-Falcon future over the last ten years. Instead they’ve kept the old dear on life support, and cost the company valuable time in re-planning, re-resourcing and re-invention.

So what’s the current situation? It has Falcon (old, irrelevant, outdated and not selling); it has Territory (a great product, poorly-marketed); Mondeo (almost a Falcon, and even more expensive); Focus and Fiesta (relevant, fuel-efficient and VERY expensive). This is a company that’s driven itself into a corner, and now doesn’t have much of a chance of driving out of it.

A very brave Alex Trotman tried his own version of ‘One Ford’ back in the mid-90s, and tragically left the execution to a team you could only describe as the foxes in the hen-house. Trotman’s vision was defeated internally, and Mullally’s survival scenario should not be allowed to suffer the same fate.

Alan Mullally has proven the value of hiring him away from Boeing, but he needs a lot of support to re-shape Ford Australia. Personally, if I were him, I would simply dictate the company’s future direction, and tell them to get on with it.

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