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Beijing show: Ford’s Chinese stars call Australia home

High-class: Ford's Chinese-market Escort sedan has its genesis in Australia.

Ford premieres Australian-developed Escort at Auto China alongside Everest SUV

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Ford logo21 Apr 2014

By MIKE COSTELLO

TWO new vehicles largely created by Ford Australia’s 1500-strong team of engineers and designers currently have starring roles on the Blue Oval’s stand at Auto China, one of the world’s largest motor shows.

Leading the charge in Beijing is the new Focus-based Escort sedan, which premiered on Sunday in production form almost one year to the day after a concept version made its global premiere at last year’s Auto China in Shanghai. (Beijing and Shanghai host the show in alternate years.) The new Escort – which wears one of the brand’s most iconic badges – was a joint project between Ford’s Research and Engineering Centre in Nanjing and its Melbourne-based Asia-Pacific design team, using Ford Australia’s world-class test facilities.

Sitting on Ford’s global C-segment platform – it is unclear if this is the current or previous generation, the latter having obvious cost benefits – the Escort will be built by Ford’s Changan joint-venture operation, which is led by former Ford Australia president Marin Burela.

At this stage, it is a Chinese-only model.

The Escort stars on Ford’s Auto China stand alongside the Australian-developed Everest seven-seat SUV, still in near-production concept form as first shown at an event in Sydney last August.

Ford says the Everest, which is based on the Ranger utility, could be produced by its Chinese joint-venture partner JMC.

As GoAuto has reported, the Australian-market version due in 2015 is expected to be sourced from Ford’s Rayong plant in Thailand, running down the same production line as the Ranger that was also developed in Australia.

Speaking from the show stand, Ford China chairman and CEO John Lawler praised “our outstanding regional team in Australia” for developing the Everest.

Both the Escort and the Everest are expected to be a major part of Ford’s huge Chinese expansion, which will see the company bring 15 new vehicles to China by 2015.

This growth into the world’s biggest auto market should see it close the gap to fellow giants Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen in the worldwide sales race.

Ford’s Australian development team comprises about 1500 workers – almost half of the entire Asia-Pacific workforce – and serves as one of Ford’s major global hubs for design and development.

Officially, Ford credits its Australia-based Asia-Pacific design team, but it is clear that much of the car’s development was undertaken here as well. Escort development vehicles have been spotted on Victorian roads for some time.

As GoAuto reported exclusively earlier this month, the disguised engineering prototypes have also been seen inside Ford’s You Yangs proving ground in Victoria being benchmarked against Volkswagen Golfs – a move that indicates Ford’s lofty engineering targets for the Escort, even though it is a budget sedan.

Ford says the Escort will sell alongside the Focus in China – we would expect it to start at a lower price point – giving the global giant more ammunition in China’s booming compact car market that is projected to contribute 7.2 million annual sales by 2017.

Staggeringly, this would make the Chinese compact segment bigger than the entire auto market in Germany, the UK and France combined.

With that in mind, the US-based Ford Motor Company’s decision to give the Escort project to Ford Asia-Pacific, and by extension to hand much of the development work to Ford’s Australian facilities, is a major boon for the local team.

As expected, the production Escort mirrors the concept version’s styling, with the familiar trapezoidal grille up front, leading to a long bonnet and a pushed-back A-pillar lending sporty proportions completed by LED tail-lights at the rear.

Ford extended the wheelbase to give “exceptional” rear legroom – a major consideration among Chinese consumers.

Under the bonnet is the 1.5-litre Ti-VCT engine shared with the EcoSport crossover. This is no developing-market ‘poverty pack’ vehicle, with six airbags fitted, the latest in in-car connectivity and premium cabin materials such as perforated leather available.

Speaking with GoAuto last month, Ford’s Shanghai-based product development vice-president Trevor Worthington – an Australian expatriate who led development of the Territory SUV, among other vehicles – said the future of Ford’s local R&D looked bright, with a number of global projects on the go.

As well as leading the global Ranger ute program, the Australian team has previously developed the Indian-market Figo hatchback. Mr Worthington said there were a number of other top-secret projects underway, with the Asia-Pacific region to take on more responsibility.

Once all three local car-makers – Ford, Holden and Toyota – stop building cars here in 2016-17, Ford will become Australia’s largest automotive employer, and the only one of the trio of departing manufacturers to retain its full research, design and engineering presence.

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