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Exclusive: Ford Figo under test in Australia

Spotted: Ford’s current Figo is being put through the engineering mill at the company’s You Yangs proving ground in Victoria, presumably as part of a new budget car development program.

Ford Figo engineering mules point to new budget car project in Australia

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Ford logo21 Mar 2017

By RON HAMMERTON

A FLOCK of Indian-made Ford Figo light sedans and hatches have been spotted under test at the Ford Asia-Pacific Product Development Centre’s You Yangs proving ground at Lara in Victoria, pointing to more budget car business at the facility.

Reasons for the appearance of Figos at the high-security facility remain elusive, but they could signal groundwork for another entry-level car developed here, possibly a new Figo for India in about 2020 or a new contender for China to sit below the Australian-developed, Focus-based Escort.

The Figo – the cheapest car in Ford’s global range – is running around in various guises between next-generation Ranger utes and other vehicles being tested by the Australian-based vehicle design and engineering team which late last year received a massive 50 per cent budget boost, to $450 million, for 2017.

Most of that budget is thought to be allocated to the development of the 2019 Ranger ute and related Everest and Bronco SUVs.

This time, the Ranger is also being aimed at the North American market, meaning a massive expansion in development work for the Australian team.

While the Ranger project dominates proceedings at the proving ground, the Australian operation has developed a handy sideline in budget model development for Ford’s developing markets, starting with the first-generation Figo – launched in India in 2010 – that was recycled from a superseded Fiesta.

That was followed by the Escort that has gone on to become Ford’s great Chinese success story, topping Ford’s sales charts there.

While the original Figo was a red-hot success in both India and export markets, the current second-generation Figo – developed in parallel with the Brazilian-developed Ford Ka – has struggled for various reasons, including increased competition in the rapidly expanding Indian market.

The Figo range is due for a facelift in the next year or so, potentially followed by an all-new model about 2020.

This entry-level light car is exported from India to Europe and the UK as the Ka+ and also to Mexico and South Africa as the Figo, but does not come to Australia.

The cars in these spy shots taken over the fence at the proving ground appear to be the Indian version of the Figo five-door hatchback and Figo Aspire four-door sedan.

A giveaway is the bob-tailed Aspire that is not sold in Brazil as the Ka or in Europe as the Ka+. Almost 260mm shorter than the five-door hatch and even shorter than the Ka sedan sold in Brazil, the Figo Aspire has been a dramatic flop.

The Figo development ‘mules’ in Australia appear to be a variety of specifications, with one undisguised hatch running on plain steel wheels and sporting basic black exterior mirrors, while an Aspire is seen with alloys and body-coloured mirrors.

The test cars are wired up with test equipment. In one of these shots, a wire can be seen running from the rear underside of a five-door hatch and into the cabin via a back door.

Coincidentally or not, Ford has had current-generation Fiesta test mules running around the You Yangs for what appears to be chassis testing for some time.

As we have previously speculated, these could be early development cars for a replacement Figo/Ka or perhaps a new budget light car for China to sit below the Australian-developed, Focus-based Escort.

Like the Escort in China, the original Australian-developed Figo was a huge success in India where its combination of cheap price and relatively sophisticated – by local standards – features and performance drove it to number one in its class and a 2011 Indian Car of the Year award.

Exports also took off, with about 50 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East clamouring for stock.

The current Figo has failed to maintain these high levels of success over the 19 months since launch, partly because the new Figo is not seen as such a bargain and also because the Indian market has moved on significantly, with a greater number of direct competitors wrestling for market share.

As previously reported, Ford Motor Company president and CEO Mark Fields flew into Melbourne three days before Christmas last year to announce the funding increase for the Australian-based product development centre, from the previous $300 million a year to $450m from 2017.

He also promised a further $50 million for new facilities and equipment to turn the Broadmeadows design and engineering centre into what Ford describes as Australia’s most advanced vehicle development campus.

“The Australian team will build on their key role leading development of the global Everest SUV and Ranger pick-up by creating more world-class vehicles and bringing even more fuel efficiency and safety innovations to customers,” he said.

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