HSV BOSS CHRIS PAYNE IS A LITTLE SCARED OF FPV
TAKEN FROM TODAYS (Friday February 21 2003) SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
Blokey brands Holden and Ford are at it again, comparing engine outputs as if they were below-the-belt dimensions. Bill McKinnon reports on the latest round of mud-slinging and skulduggery.
This week's launch of the revived GT Falcon, with which Ford hopes at last to give Holden Special Vehicles some serious competition, signals the start of a yet another performance war of words and of V8 power.
HSV general manager Chris Payne has come out swinging, suggesting that Ford's claimed 290kW from its 5.4-litre V8, used across the GT range, is a questionable figure.
"We don't want to play games with numbers," Payne told Drive. "If Ford's power figures were obtained according to the same standards as ours, their power would be less."
Ford Performance Vehicles managing director David Flint was "not interested" in responding to HSV's claim.
"The last thing in the world I want to get involved in is power figures," said Flint, who has headed Ford's performance arm since its inception in 1991 as Tickford Vehicle Engineering. "The 'mine is bigger than yours' scenario is really, really silly."
Will the GT's marketing push hard on the power button? "It had better not," he said.
The amount of wallop under the bonnet is a sensitive issue in this market. The protagonists are wary of attracting the ire of legislators by emphasising high performance.
It's almost a case of "Don't mention the P word." However, both also acknowledge that power -- lots of it -- is one of the major selling points of their line-ups.
It is no coincidence that HSV's domination of the home-grown hot-rod V8 sector has been greatly assisted by, until recently, a significant power advantage over Ford's rival T Series.
In 2002, HSV sold 3703 cars. The T Series sold in the hundreds.
Ford has tried a couple of times to take on HSV, with little success. The 1999 FTE -- Ford Tickford Experience -- branding exercise was a failure. Much more effort is going Ford Performance Vehicles, the latest moniker.
Dealer numbers have increased from 18 to 66, the GT range is aggressively priced and its V8 now has a claimed 30kW advantage over HSV's 260kW 5.7-litre Gen III V8.
HSV has a 300kW Callaway (US) engineered version of the Gen III, but this starts at $93,500 for the GTS sedan. The Ford V8 is available in the base GT sedan from $59,850, while HSV's base 260kW Clubsport is $58,200.
"It remains to be seen whether FPV will work," said Payne. "We rate their chances better this time because they have copied the HSV business model, and three of our cars feature-for-feature and dollar-for-dollar.
"FTE and T Series didn't work, and dropping that brand name means that its customers have paid the price.
Flint says: "We got the message loud and clear that the T Series cars were not quite what our customers wanted. We had to develop something to match their aspirations. They want cars that are more expressive."
Cue the hero red stripes -- straight from the 1970s -- running down the side of the GT.
Ford's power advantage won't go astray either, suggested Flint. "Some customers want out-and-out power, and for most in the top four or five [priorities].
"We want to be on the same page as HSV, but power alone is not a sensible platform on which to sell cars. It's simple to make a car that goes fast in a straight line and makes your nose bleed."
Flint certainly has HSV in his sights. "HSV has taken Ford customers in the past. We will target and take potential HSV customers."
He also hopes to attract Ford fans who stashed their blue scarves during the joyless AU Falcon years. "We have a heap of people who have been waiting for this," Flint said.
The annual Bathurst enduro, where the Ford and Holden tribes get stuck right into each other on top of Mt Panorama for the weekend, attests to the intensity of this contest.
Recent circulation gains by Australia's two major enthusiast magazines, Wheels and Motor -- which glorify fast Fords and Holdens -- are also an indication that Australia still has plenty of dinky-di petrolheads.
On the back of a string of Holden and/or/ versus Ford covers, the circulation of Wheels jumped 22 percent in the most recent audit to more than 70,000 copies an issue. Motor had a 17 percent rise to more than 60,000.
"FPV is the blue team and HSV is the red team," Flint said. "We're now supporting the blue team in the way our supporters want to be represented."
FPV's website takes a shot at the Holden V8's American origins with this jingoistic little homily. "As the only V8 engine now developed and assembled in Australia [the Boss V8] is also a big advance for the home team."
Sort of. The Ford engine components are made in Canada (as are Australia-bound Gen IIIs) but it is, as Ford claims, assembled here and extensive local engineering has gone into its development.
Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, both HSV and FPV maintain that they now cater for more than a hoon mindset.
"Power is not the be all and end all," HSV's Payne said. "We always put our effort into creating a driver's package. For the true enthusiast, the GT's performance could be blunted by the overweight nature of the vehicle."
The base GT is rather portly 1827kg. HSV's Clubsport tips the scales at 1660kg; against the clock, the extra metal is likely to compromise the Ford's power advantage.
Payne declined to comment on whether HSV may respond to the GT by packaging more power for less money.
"We will have to wait and see how Ford goes," he said.
"Most of our customers are not looking at the Ford product, but there will be renewed interest which may stimulate the market."
That's code for "We don't think they'll hurt us but if they do we might have to act".
An FPV dealer salesman was Drive.
"The FPV cars will go well. It's always been said that power is important in this class. It's a Catch-22 for us though. You can't be seen as being the slower vehicle, but you can't encourage speed either."
An HSV counterpart acknowledged a legitimate rival in FPV. "We're looking for a bit of competition," he said. "We were lucky for a while, when we had [a more powerful V8] while Ford were still badgering around with a V8 producing less than 200kW."
GT buyers can take an advanced driving course and HSV has similar courses available. The official lines being that these are about safety and skill - a smart ploy to neutralise flak from those who regard more than 250kW of power as a bit excessive and irresponsible.