FORD Australia has announced it will take total control of its Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) tuning division from the end of this year, after majority stakeholder Prodrive opted to exit the local performance car market.
The Blue Oval will purchase Prodrive’s 51 per cent share of the business to go with its existing 49 per cent share, and will see the engineering, manufacturing and marketing of all FPV Falcons relocated to its production facilities in Campbellfield and Geelong.
The memorandum of understanding to shift FPV in-house by the end of this year will make about 32 staff made redundant – the bulk of its remaining workforce – with only a small group of expert staff likely to be shifted across to the Ford facilities.
This follows Ford’s announcement last month that it would lose 440 staff at its Australian operations, but Ford Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano told journalists this morning that today’s announcement would involve a small number of those workers retaining their jobs to build and assemble FPV products.
Ford Australia public affairs manager Sinead Phipps told GoAuto the number of workers retained would be fewer than the 32 FPV staff laid-off.
The announcement comes less than three months after FPV laid-off an undisclosed number of workers – believed to be around 12 – including previous general manager Rod Barrett, as part of a major restructure.
Production of FPV engines – including the 310kW turbocharged 4.0-litre inline-six used in the F6 and the 335kW supercharged 5.0-litre V8 used in the GT – will move to Ford’s Geelong engine plant, while full vehicle assembly will take place in Campbellfield alongside the Falcon and Territory.
Mr Graziano said the company had been forced to take on the remainder of FPV after the company deemed the existing joint venture arrangement to be “unsustainable”, leading to Prodrive deciding to leave the market.
“What we’ve done is to take a look at the business in total and project where that business was going in future, and we came to the conclusion that the present situation really wasn’t sustainable longer term,” he said.
“As a result, Prodrive has elected to exit the performance car market, and we in turn will assume responsibility for these vehicles and in moving them into Geelong and Broadmeadows (Campbellfield) will bring along the efficiencies that we have within these two operations.
“We recognise the passion and dedication of FPV enthusiasts and their desire to see Ford high-performance vehicles available in the market.
“Although this segment of the market is relatively niche, it is an important part of Ford’s performance history and DNA. Both partners have worked hard to ensure the FPV brand can continue to thrive in Australia post the change to our current arrangements.”
Mr Graziano said current and future customers would not experience any change in how they interact with the brand, including servicing and buying the cars, meaning future models will retain FPV badging.
There is also understood to be no increase to planned production volume on the horizon, with Mr Graziano saying the company will instead concentrate on selling the special edition GT RSPEC launched earlier this month.
Mr Graziano told GoAuto Ford had no plans to broaden the FPV line-up beyond the current range of Falcon sedan and ute-based products with tuned versions of cars like the Territory SUV or Focus small car.
“It’s too early to talk about any changes to the portfolio, and for the foreseeable future from an FPV prospect perspective they won’t see a significant change in the line-up,” he said.
Mr Graziano also said the move to purchase the remainder of FPV would have no bearing on the possible return of the iconic Falcon XR8, with the company still working on a viable business case to return the car to market – potentially powered by Ford’s global ‘Coyote’ V8 engine.
“There has been no change within the last 45 days, since we last spoke about the car,” he said.
“I have not been bashful in telling you we would love to see that, but we just have't figured out a business model that works. If that changes I can guarantee I’ll be first person to announce it.”
Prodrive Australia managing director Bryan Mears – whose role as head of FPV will cease when the changeover comes into effect – said the change in ownership was the “most pragmatic” decision, and said his organisation would help make the transition as smooth as possible.
“The fact is, you can’t ignore what’s happening in the Australian marketplace,” he said.
“We have come to the conclusion from Prodrive’s perspective that we need to protect the brand and promote it and from our perspective that occurs when Ford turns its attention solely to the responsibility.
“They have various attributes and situations around their operational activity currently which are favourable for them to take over the sole ownership and management of FPV.
“This is a commercial decision, and we’ve (Prodrive and Ford Australia) reached this together. The current arrangement ... was definitely the best outcome for our part.”
Mr Mears told GoAuto that Prodrive did not discuss business strategies and future plans, but would not rule out undertaking development deals with other manufacturers in the Australian market.
“It’s fair to say we’ve always been aggressive in the marketplace. Now, we’re not going to continue in performance car space beyond end of year, but let’s see what develops,” he said.
As we reported in March this year, Prodrive worked on tuning the ride and handling on the forthcoming Chinese-built ZX GrandTiger ute for Australian conditions. ZX will start sales in Western Australia in October before a national roll-out in April 2013.
Mr Mears said there would be no change to the Ford Performance Racing V8 Supercar team, which operates as a separate business with its own management.
Ford Australia’s commitment to the FPR factory team – whose driver Mark Winterbottom is sitting one point from the championship lead – will continue through 2013 as planned.