The Ford Falcon will not be present on the V8 Supercars grid after the 2016 season – if not before – after Ford US parent group confirmed that it was shutting down its manufacturing operation in Australia in October 2016.
Truthfully, the announcement is not unexpected, although many fans and motorsport figures were shocked by the news that Ford would exist as an import-only brand from 2017 onwards.
The closure of its Australian-based manufacturing plants will lead to the loss of about 1,200 jobs through a combination of natural attrition and enforced redundancies as it winds the operation down.
Despite several injections of government funding to keep the operation going, Ford’s Australian arm has bled money for years. Last year, Ford Australia posted a $141 million after-tax loss to take its accumulated losses over the past five years to over $600 million
The downturn in profits and revenue has long been a talk in the Australian carmaking scene, which will now have Holden and Toyota as the only two manufacturers with production sites in the country.
Coupled with the increase in popularity of imported models from Asia and Australian customers switching to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, sales of the larger-body Falcons have plummeted in recent years.
That has had a flow-on effect to Ford’s presence in the V8 Supercars Championship, which has been on a steady decline in recent years. This year’s 28-car grid has just six entries representing the ‘Blue Oval’.
Of those six, four are supported by Ford’s special division, Ford Performance Racing, while the other two remain with Ford’s longest-serving stalwart, Dick Johnson Racing.
And unless the V8 Supercars Championship changes its technical regulations, the Falcon will be ineligible for competition as of 2017. The rules dictate that any competing models must be commercially available in Australia with a minimum worldwide production volume of 5,000 cars per year.
Despite this rather obvious hurdle, senior leaders in FPR remain confident that they will continue to run in Ford colours for “years to come”.
“While we are of course sorry to hear that Ford will be ending local production from October 2016, this by no means signals an end to Ford in Australia, nor to the close relationship we have with the company,” FPR co-owner Rod Nash said in a pre-prepared statement, issued shortly after Ford Australia’s announcement.
“Ford is a robust global company and one that has taken a tough decision to ensure the future viability of its business here in Australia. It will continue to be a significant force in the Australian automotive landscape.
“We are proud to fly the Ford flag and look forward to doing so for years to come.”
That would seemingly only remain possible if Ford Australia opted to keep the Falcon nameplate running via its ‘Special Vehicles’ branch, which will have to produce a minimum of 3,500 vehicles per year for sale. Given that sales of the hotted-up Falcons have declined even more rapidly that its more conventional passenger car, that seems a pipedream.
That leaves the only other alternative of shoehorning a V8 Supercars-eligible Ford engine into another four-door saloon model and racing that post-2016, which is an option that V8 Supercars Australia appears to indicate will happen.
“Ford has an enormously proud and successful racing heritage globally as well as here in Australia with the Falcon, the Mustang, Sierra and Cortina,” it said in its media release.
“We expect that to continue for at least the next three years and beyond.
“The very purpose of Car of the Future is to adapt to the market conditions. It is incredibly successful with Nissan and Mercedes-AMG on the grid, and more to come. It is the future of the sport.”
It is a shame that the Falcon – Australia’s longest-produced car – will not be a part of that future.