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Ford  Next: Ford Australia is set to develop a new SUV off the next-generation Ranger that replaces the current model (pictured) next year.

Next: Ford Australia is set to develop a new SUV off the next-generation Ranger that replaces the current model (pictured) next year.

Top US engineer heads to Australia to head up new Ford SUV project

FORD is set to develop a new sports utility vehicle (SUV) in Australia for international markets.

Fresh from leading the design and engineering of Ford’s next-generation Ranger light truck – code-named T6 – Ford Australia has been tasked with spinning off a new off-roader from the Ranger platform, aimed at the Asia Pacific region.

GoAuto understands the project will be headed by Ford Motor Company vehicle engineering manager and SUV specialist Todd Hoevener, who has just signed off on the all-new Ford Explorer launched this week in the United States.

Mr Hoevener, an American born in Indiana, has confirmed he is coming to Australia for the new project, adding: “This is going to be fun.”

Details of the vehicle, its projected launch date and production location remain secret, but Mr Hoevener’s seniority and extensive experience in midsize and large SUVs point to a major SUV under Ford’s One Ford global vehicle program.

Ford Australia communications manager Sinead McAlary declined to comment specifically on the SUV project, saying only that Ford Australia had always said it would produce more than one model off the T6 platform.

GoAuto understands that the massive engineering team that has been working on the Ranger ute in Victoria is now ready to swing on to the SUV variant that, like the ute, is unlikely to be built locally.

The Ranger ute is in its final testing phase before being rolled out internationally from 2011 to multiple markets around the world, including Australia and the United States.

Ford center imageFrom top: Todd Hoevener, Ford Territory, Ford Explorer.

Here, the T6 will replace the Thai-made Mazda B-Series-based one-tonner that received an update last year. The new model, which has occupied 450 local engineers and designers in a $700 million development project in Victoria, will go into production in Thailand, South Africa and the United States in dual-cab and king cab variants.

The new SUV – built on the rugged T6 ladder-chassis platform – will be pitched directly at rivals such as Nissan’s Navara-based Pathfinder and Mitsubishi’s Triton-derived Challenger.

The vehicle is unlikely to replace the Falcon-based Territory, but might make it into Australia as an import from Thailand.

Mr Hoevener, the chief technical officer overseeing the Explorer project, would have extensive knowledge of Ford’s new fuel-efficient EcoBoost engine technology that has just been applied to the new Explorer in the same 176kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder form that will appear in both Ford’s Australian Falcon and Aussie-designed T6 Ranger next year.

Ford has already ruled out the EcoBoost engine for the current-generation Territory. Instead, it is planning to graft its European 2.7-litre diesel – formerly used in Land Rover, Jaguar and PSA Peugeot-Citroen vehicles – into the Territory next year when the Falcon-based SUV gets its first major makeover since it was launched in March 2004.

Ultimately, Ford Australia will be faced with the challenge of replacing Territory, which, like the Falcon, is expected to lose its locally derived rear-drive format under Ford CEO Alan Mulally’s One Ford model strategy that requires the company to develop global models and shed small regional-interest vehicles that deliver less reward to the bottom line.

Ford Australia president and CEO Marin Burela has not ruled out a switch to a front-drive model – presumably based on the Taurus - in the next generation beyond 2016.

Without a rear-drive Falcon, Ford Australia would then be faced with killing the rear-drive Territory or finding a replacement on a One Ford platform, such as the US-developed Taurus – which would fit with a front-drive Falcon for local production purposes at Broadmeadows – or some other alternative.

As Ford’s big new Explorer is already built on the Taurus platform in both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive, Ford Australia might be able to modify that, perhaps scaling back the dimensions and restyling it to sit below Explorer, which is essentially aimed at North American consumers.

And, conveniently, Ford Australia would have the Ford Explorer engineering chief, Mr Hoevener, already on hand.

Another possibility is a mid-sized SUV built on the European Mondeo architecture, delivering a direct competitor for General Motor’s successful Captiva and Toyota’s Kluger.

This would be unlikely to go into Australian production, but neither is the T6 Ranger that was designed at Ford Australia’s tech centre.

Although Ford Australia could sorely use a new compact SUV, Ford of Europe already has that base covered with the Kuga, using the company’s C1 small-car platform that also has spawned the global Focus and C-Max crossover.


Ford  Next: Ford Australia is set to develop a new SUV off the next-generation Ranger that replaces the current model (pictured) next year.








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