Ford Australia's Mercury Capri was the first mass-produced "convertible" built here since the 1930s. It was marketed to a conservative niche of young middle-class American women as an alternative to the traditional Mercury range. The Capri was a notable example of a value-added export. A total of 24,000 Mercury Capris were exported to the USA in 1990 earning $357 million for Australia.
This is a Ford Capri which Ford Australia developed in the late 1980s for the lucrative North American market where it was sold as the Mercury Capri.
In the 1980s Ford Australia was one Australian company that realised opportunities existed to develop innovative, high-value-added products to meet new demands in overseas market. The product it developed was the Mercury Capri coupe, which achieved striking success in North America, its target market.
Ford's decision in 1986 to invest over $300 million to develop a car for export represented a great risk. Unlike all the other Australian cars manufactured since the failure of the Leyland P76, the Capri's radical new design did not follow overseas trends even though it was targeted at a niche market in the USA, a market that was also being target by Mazda.
By any measure, Australian car manufacturing practices in the 1980s were inferior to Japanese, European and North American practices. For the Capri to be competitive in the North American market, productivity and quality of manufacturing had to be greatly improved. Ford achieved this by developing a special production line for its manufacture, investing heavily in advanced equipment and training and setting up worker involvement programs to improve procedures and quality of work at all stages of production. These improvements were later incorporated on other Ford production lines.
Ford also had to comply with American design standards which changed after the car's design had been finalised. Legislation required that new pollution controls and passenger restraints be incorporated, causing extra costs and delays in tooling up for production. Despite these and other setbacks, the Capri proved to be very successful with over 25,000 cars worth $350 million being sold in the USA in 1991. It became known as the biggest selling car of its kind in North America, outselling the Mazda Miata (known in Australia as the MX-5) through pricing, innovation in 'soft top' sports car design, engineering design, manufacture and marketing. Its success epitomised the advances made by some Australian industries at the time and provided encouragement for further development of Australia's advanced manufacturing industries by the early 1990s. In the end, over 80 percent of the Capri's Australian production run was exported to North America where it was advertised as a "steel bikini".
Renew, Robert, "Making it: Innovation and Success in Australia's industries", Powerhouse Publishing, 1993.