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Ford Australia embarks on fresh global R&D work

Top secret: Now that Ford Australia's design and engineering team has finished work on the upcoming Everest, it is believed they are working on a number of new projects that are still under wraps.

New design, engineering work underway as Ford Oz consolidates can-do reputation

Ford logo9 Dec 2014

FORD Australia’s design and engineering team is understood to be at the beginning of a fresh cycle of product development as the company steps up its role as one of the American auto giant’s core research and development centres.

Speaking to GoAuto at the 2014 Go Further future vehicle and technologies reveal in Melbourne this week, Ford Asia-Pacific product development vice-president Trevor Worthington confirmed that a number of secret new projects are underway in Australia.

While refusing to divulge details such as model and intended markets, he did reveal that the high standard of work conducted in the past on vehicles such as the Indian-market Fiesta and Figo, the current T6 Ranger and Everest and the collaborative effort that has produced China’s recent Escort small car has fortified the Australian team’s reputation for excellence.

As GoAuto reported exclusively in August, the centre is also working on the still-secret next-generation Taurus for North America, China and other markets. “The confidence from the team is really strong, and we’re growing the team to deliver the next iteration of cycle-plan work that is coming towards us,” Mr Worthington said.

“That will happen through next year, and that will grow to a higher level through our design and our engineering and through our other centres as well.” Although not on the grand scale of the mammoth T6 project, which is ongoing as updates and derivatives are still in the pipeline, the new vehicle developments require a broad level of expertise.

“Is there going to be another Ranger or Everest in our future? I wouldn’t say,” Mr Worthington said. “But the Ranger and Everest are massive by any global project standard, they are a huge piece of work, with the amount of body styles and powertrains involved, and the amount of work required to develop those vehicles for close to 200 markets globally is enormous.

“So it would be difficult to foresee us continuing to work on those programs and have something else as big as those products. (T6) is a massive venture, and it’s only gotten bigger since we’ve gone from the pick-up body style to the SUV body style.” Mr Worthington believes versatility is the key ingredient in keeping his team viable and relevant moving into the future, avoiding the potential pitfall of Ford Australia being pigeonholed as truck experts as a result of the Ranger’s success.

“You need a range of local products, regional products and global products (in any portfolio), and for many, many reasons,” he said. “One is that you want engineers and designers that are versed in a range of different products … so we have people that have rotated between Falcon and Territory to Figo to both of the T6 products and Escort.

“Having the versatility to be able to turn your hand to whatever the company needs is a very important part of the business. From a product development perspective, regionally and in Australia, it has been a great thing for building our reputation to take on other work.

“And it’s been a really good thing for Australia and New Zealand and some of the other markets because we’ve been able to develop a great product that customers love and want to buy.

“So has it helped out Ford Australia, Ford New Zealand and Ford of South Africa because those are the markets with a big-country, robust, go-anywhere kind of mindset.

“(The Ranger) has also been in many ways a kind of the anchor that we have grown around, (enabling) all the investments we have made in all the facilities we now use. There’s been a lot of the growth that we have made on the back of that product … and now we are using it for other things.” While Mr Worthington is well aware of the fickleness of the automotive industry, he is confident that contracts will not dry up any time soon if his team continues to knuckle down and maintain high standards.

“You never say never … but there is absolutely no reason why based on the delivery and based on the other work that is coming towards us that we’re starting now, that the centre won’t be a very important piece of delivery for the foreseeable future,” he said.

“We have a number of global centres that have responsibility for global product and regional product, and we have three development centres in Asia-Pacific, with the most important one being the one right here in Melbourne, which has been here the longest and has the most experience.

“It has what we call platform, powertrain and top-hat capability, so there are centres around the world that dabble in some but this centre is one of four that can do all … so it’s a really important for Ford globally.

“Nobody could sit here in any of those centres and say our future is forever, but what we can say is that every piece of work that we’ve done has delivered the outcomes that we were are looking for, and if you’re on time and on cost and on quality, then there’s really not much more that you could ask for.

“Our job to some extent is to have a factory and make sure it is nourished and that they have the right blend of youth and experience and delivery, and that’s what we do. That’s what the cycle plan does.” Last year, the Ford invested $340 million into product research and development facilities in Australia, bringing the total over the past seven years to more than $2.2 billion – the largest undertaken by any manufacturer.

Additionally, Ford is collaborating with universities in Australia to foster future engineers and designers.

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