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Blue Oval spends up on refurbished proving ground

Test bed: Ford Australia's proving ground has been the development hot-spot for the forthcoming Everest SUV.

Ford Australia proving ground upgrade means wheels in motion for big global projects

Ford logo2 Apr 2014

By MIKE COSTELLO

FORD Australia will soon complete significant upgrades to its vehicle proving ground in regional Victoria as it gears up to develop a number of new models for international markets.

The upgrade, quietly announced in August last year, includes an additional test road for noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) assessments, a complete update of existing roads including the 4.8km high-speed loop and assorted cobble-style surfaces such as Belgian block.

A $2.5 million test cell will refine vehicle emissions, while the company has also spend about $300,000 buying new equipment to test driver-assistance technology such as radar-guided cruise control systems.

All up, the spend is expected to total around $5.7 million.

Large truckloads of gravel and fist-sized rocks, as well as earth-moving equipment, have recently spotted at the site. It is unclear if other facilities such as the on-site dyno, skid-pan and water splash pools will get an upgrade.

Situated next to the You Yangs hills near the town Lara, the proving ground has traditionally been used to test the Australian Falcon and Territory, but has also been the development home for models such as the Ranger ute and the Indian-market Figo small-car.

At present, the site is hosting late-stage development work on the Ranger-based Everest SUV and the Chinese-market Escort, plus a mid-life upgraded Ranger, and the final iterations of the Falcon and Territory set for release late this year.

With these projects coming to a close, the addition investment in its testing facilities indicates Ford Australia has picked up contracts to develop other future models, either for the developing Indian market, China or – potentially – another world project on the scale of the Ranger.

Adding further fuel to the fire, Ford announced this week that it would upgrade its two-year-old ‘virtual reality’ interior design lab by September, allowing it to more easily accommodate the development of larger vehicles.

Last month, Ford’s Australian-born but Chinese-based Asia-Pacific product development vice-president Trevor Worthington told GoAuto the company’s region was working on more projects than those already confirmed, and said Australia would continue to act as a ‘hubs’ for numerous projects allocated from Dearborn to the Asia Pacific division.

“Our view is we are definitely going to take on more product, absolutely, the expertise that we’ve got and that cycling process, every time you do that you get better,” he said, speaking at a parts fair in Geelong last month.

“We are doing more product right now than clearly we’ve let on – that’s the usual process. There’s more product we’ve got our hat in the ring for right now.” All signs points to a healthy future for the Blue Oval’s local design and development operations – a rare bright spot in an industry beset by grim tidings in recent times.

While Ford Australia will shut its local manufacturing operations in Broadmeadows and Geelong in 2016, its full design and development facilities are continuing. Australia is one of the few Ford sites anywhere that can create a car from ‘go to whoa’, from early sketches.

Once Holden and Toyota withdraw from local manufacturing and large-scale engineering here in 2017, Ford says it will be Australia’s largest auto employer. It currently employs around 1500 engineers and designers.

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