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Ford boss upbeat about future despite closures

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 22/05/2014 Sam Hall
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The boss of Ford Australia is adamant the company will thrive in Australia long-term despite the impending shutdown of its car making operations and the loss of government subsidies.

Ford embarked on a restructure of its Australian operations a year ago, announcing the closure of its manufacturing facilities and the retirement of the locally produced Falcon nameplate. The decision will eventually force 1200 employees, or about 50 per cent of Ford's production workforce, out of a job.

Chief executive Bob Graziano said the Ford brand would be equally as ingrained in the Australian automotive landscape after its car making operations are relinquished, even though the shutdown - which came after a directive from Ford's headquarters in Detroit - shook the Ford Australia brand at its core.

"I'm really looking forward to … all the new products that are coming," Mr Graziano said.

Ford's announcement last year triggered a domino effect across the industry, which is strictly predicated on scale and volume. Holden called time on local manufacturing in December, for a 2017 closure, while Toyota followed suit in January.

In February, Ford brought forward the redundancies of about 300 manufacturing workers. The voluntary redundancy program for those positions closes next month. The reason was that Ford's production levels have dipped from 260 vehicles a day in 2010 to 133 cars a day at present, as consumers opt for cheaper and more fuel efficient imported models.

Last week, Ford Australia posted a $267 million net loss for 2013. But a key measure was its relatively low operational loss of $25 million, which Mr Graziano considers a positive for the company's long-term future.

Ford will introduce new models to Australia, including the venerable Mustang in 2015.

But there will be a significant challenge maintaining market share once the production lines stop. The once-market leader has already dropped to just 7.7 per cent of a booming market. Of that, one third is made up of locally produced models.

Mr Graziano's sentiment towards the company's post-manufacturing prospects is even more unwavering.

Ford is set to become the largest automotive R&D employer in Australia post-2017 in its capacity as one of four global design and engineering centres. The facility will retain about 1100 employees, who will work to develop the next-generation of Ford's global product line.

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