FORD Australia incoming president and chief executive Graeme Whickman says his predecessor, Bob Graziano, should be praised for ensuring the future of the Blue Oval here, rather than castigated for deciding to shut its two manufacturing plants and kill the locally designed and built Falcon.
He has also moved to end speculation Graziano’s decision to retire means the Broadmeadows assembly line and Geelong engine plant will close before the planned deadline.
Whickman takes over the top job from Graziano on April 1, meaning he is now charged with overseeing the shuttering of the Broadmeadows assembly line and Geelong engine-casting plant, and the end of Falcon and Territory SUV production no later than October 2016.
Graziano announced the closures in May 2013, and confirmed he had doubled his Australian tenure from three to six years to ensure he was here right through the “transformation” process from manufacturer to full-line importer. But after a 32-year career with Ford, the 55-year old has now elected to retire. He declined a Wheels request for an interview before his departure.
“Categorically not – completely unrelated,” Whickman insisted of Graziano’s departure and the timetable for closing the plants.
“Our plan for the cessation of manufacturing remains as we committed. Nothing is sitting in the background that would prompt Bob to make a decision and move on.
“Our plan is the plan; we have a build and a sales rate that support our commitment. Our commitment remains the same.”
While he was highly regarded within Ford and worked a succession of senior jobs in China, South America, South Africa and at Mazda in Japan, Graziano’s wooden public performances and grim determination to stick to the official message no matter what did not inspire during his Australian tenure.
But Graziano’s colleagues, including Whickman, describe him as intelligent, compassionate and of the highest integrity.
“Bob’s legacy is based on fixing the fundamentals and making some tough decisions and dealing with reality, but in a way that has been very dignified and respectful of people,” Whickman says.
“To judge Bob’s tenure on just one of those decisions is I think tough when he turned around and put in place a lot of fundamental elements that are required for us to become a sustainable and viable business.”
However, Graziano departs with Ford’s sales at their lowest since 1966 and Falcon’s 2014 result its poorest since the nameplate launched in 1960.
But cautiously, Whickman forecasts a turnaround based on an incoming rush of new models led by the all-new Mondeo, Everest and Mustang, as well as updates to Ranger and Focus. In total, Ford says it will launch 20 new models here by 2020.
“There will be an expectation that we would have a different number than we have been selling in recent years, but I am not going to make any crazy predictions,” Whickman says. “I am going to sit quietly and hopefully achieve with a bit of humility and respect, and then when we get there I’ll be happy about it.”