Ford refuses export help from government: leaked wire

A cable released by Wikileaks shows Ford Australia refused funding from the government to build its export business, amid speculation that Australian car manufacturers are in dire straits after battling with the strong Australian dollar for the best part of a year.

Ford Australia currently sells the vast majority of its vehicles in Australia and New Zealand, and a small amount in the Pacific Islands. The company no longer relies heavily on the export market since it closed its export program after the onset of the GFC in 2008.

A cable leaked last week on Wikileaks shows innovation minister Senator Kim Carr offered the company ”co-investment opportunities to create left-hand-drive cars for export”.

The cable, obtained by The Age’s Drive section, showed the Victorian car-maker wasn’t interested in ramping up its export business right now to export the locally-made Territory and Falcon, but rather working with its overseas subsidiaries to make cars of global standards.

”[Senator] Carr is very worried about Ford’s future in Australia. He told [the Consul-General’s office] Melbourne he fears Ford will not succeed in attracting the necessary investment to update its aging product lines,” the cable says, reportedly signed off by former Melbourne-based US Consul-General Michael Thurston.

The cable was dated back to 16 December, 2009, but would explain why Ford Australia has not upgraded its export manufacturing presence in Victoria for the past few years.

Before the GFC, Holden exported around half its annual vehicle production. 

Instead, the Broadmeadows company has announced downsizing plans, due to the flagging sales of its Ford Falcon.

The plans include making the first ever four-cylinder Ford Falcon model, to compete locally with other four-cylinder models such as those made by Holden. 

"The improvements we’re making to the award-winning Falcon range with the introduction of FG Falcon MkII will make a great Australian car even better," Ford Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano said, quoted by the Daily Telegraph.

"Ford refuses to confirm the Falcon’s future as a locally produced car beyond 2015."

The model boasted a new EcoBoost engine, which was partially paid-for by the Green Car Fund (which was scrapped earlier this year). 

The Wikileaks cable says exporting is definitely not on the agenda right now; importing is more likely the way forward for the company.

”By contrast, Holden views its Australian operation more as a standalone subsidiary,” the cable says.

”Although Senator Carr would clearly like to see the three automotive manufacturers increase their export volumes, Holden plans to focus increasingly on the Australian market.

”[Former Holden managing director] Alan Batey acknowledged a tension between Senator Carr’s desire for greater exports and Holden’s plans to focus more on the Australian domestic market.

”Batey believes, however, that Holden can best play to its strengths by focusing on niche exports such as providing police vehicles and high-end muscle cars to the US market.”