Ford Australia president Geoff Polites will return from the US this week with news on the Raptor four-wheel-drive Falcon project for which sources suggest he has secured tentative approval.
The ambitious project is a key component of Ford Australia?s five-year business plan for which Polites is seeking approval at the company?s global headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.
Sources have suggested the Raptor project was all but signed off following preliminary discussions between Polites and Ford executives at the Tokyo Motor Show last month.
However, the recent sudden departure of Ford?s global boss, Australian Jacques Nasser, has raised questions about the project. US reports say that new CEO William Clay Ford Jnr might halt initiatives started by his predecessor in an attempt to shift the car maker?s focus back to more traditionally successful products.
During a news conference last week at Ford Motor Company's headquarters, Ford Jnr told reporters that "everything's up for review". He refused to reveal, however, which ? if any ? programs could be jettisoned.
Polites, who was unavailable for comment, has previously stressed that major product decisions aren't made by individuals. And while indications are said to be positive following a recent meeting between Polites and Ford executives in Tokyo, Nasser's sudden departure is believed to have further jeopardised the project.
The Raptor project was said to be close to Nasser's heart.
Four-wheel-drives are enjoying a long-lived sales boom in Australia and accounting for almost one in five new car sales.
Arch-rival Holden has already confirmed production of its own 4WD wagon based on its top-selling Commodore range. It could be on the road as early as 2003.
Just as Holden and Ford passenger cars are so similar in specification, expect plenty of similarities with the off-road variants should the Raptor go ahead.
Like the Holden, the Raptor will use an all-new bodyshell boasting bolder, more aggressive styling than the Falcon wagon it is based on. The Raptor is also expected to offer three rows of seats on some models.
The choice of powerplants will also be similar. Holden will offer its V6 and V8s, while the Raptor is expected to come with the choice of an in-line six-cylinder or the all-new 5.4-litre V8 that will arrive in next year?s facelifted AV Falcon, codenamed "Barra".
One thing in the Raptor's favour is the fact that the business case for the proposed model has been costed entirely for Australian consumption ? and funded locally ? meaning the sales volumes needed for the model to succeed are substantially smaller than for a model planned for export duties.
However, Ford Australia has previously hinted that the Raptor could appeal to various export markets.
An official decision about the Raptor?s future is expected before the end of the year. If it is given the go-ahead, expect the production version to hit the streets about 2004.
Polites, however, isn?t just arguing the Raptor?s case to his US superiors. Also on the table is Ford Australia?s aforementioned five-year business plan, which includes proposals for an all-new Falcon due about 2005/06.
If the Raptor does get the thumbs-up, then it would seem likely that the upcoming Falcon would also be approved because it would be built alongside the vehicle.