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Ford Australia R&D still has US backing: Graziano

Working hard: This shot shows a Ranger undergoing development at Ford's ACART facility at Victoria's You Yangs.

Continued design and engineering work proof of US support for Ford Australia

24 May 2013

FORD’S decision to close its Australian manufacturing lines at the end of 2016 will have no adverse impact on its Victorian-based Asia-Pacific design and engineering centre, according to president and CEO Bob Graziano.

When the doors to its Campbellfield and Geelong factories close, Ford Australia will become one of just two Blue Oval outposts – alongside Dunton in the UK – to develop cars for other countries while making none for its own domestic market.

According to Mr Graziano, this goes a long way to showing that despite having ordered the plant closure, Ford’s US headquarters in Dearborn had not lost all faith in its Australian operations.

“I think the total corporation has been very supportive and co-operative in helping us work our way through the various alternatives,” he said in an interview with GoAuto.

“And I don’t believe that Dearborn has lost confidence in Australia at all – quite the opposite.

“If you look at the support that we get with respect to products, with respect to people that we have here, with respect to what role this organisation will have in terms of the broader Ford Motor Company going forward … I think it speaks volumes about the commitment the company has to Australia.” Mr Graziano was quick to point out at this week’s announcement that while 1200 manufacturing jobs would be lost, and more than 90 years of history ended, the company would retain 1500 workers in Australia in other capacities.

 center imageFord Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano, taken at yesterday's announcement.

Most of these are involved in design and engineering, either at the research and development centre in Geelong (400), the proving ground in Lara (200) or the design and engineering centre at Broadmeadows (about 400).

As well as creating its own domestic vehicles, including the upgraded 2014 Falcon and Territory – the last models to roll down the line in Australia – Ford Australia has been involved in developing a host of vehicles for other markets or global consumption, such as the Ranger utility, a forthcoming SUV derivative and India’s Figo light car.

It has also had a hand in the new Escort for China, the next-generation global Mustang (led by the US team) and, as Ford’s Chinese-based Asia-Pacific passenger vehicle and SUV programs director Trevor Worthington told GoAuto in India last week, has a full plate of projects moving forward.

Mr Worthington even said an intake of more specialist engineers may be needed, which now seems ironic in the face of the 1200 production job cuts – and “limited” redeployment opportunities – announced yesterday.

Mr Graziano told us that the research, design and testing facilities would continue in perpetuity, and would retain the ability work on global tasks great and small.

“There is no impact in terms of the size of the research and development organisation here,” he said. “That same group of people have the capability to take on whatever work the Ford Motor Company needs them to take on.

“And I think they’ve demonstrated that capability not only with the Falcon and Territory but also with the Ranger, with the Figo, and some of the other vehicles that they’ve had a hand in.

“The plan right now is that they will remain what we call a ‘centre of excellence’, moving forward within the company, so they remain an important part of not only the broader product development organisation but also the test facility.” Ford Australia’s US parent has been criticised for failing to ensure its Australian subsidiary remained viable as a manufacturer by producing global vehicles for export throughout the region, as is the case with Toyota Australia and its Altona-built Camry.

But Mr Graziano said that as long as Ford Australia received design and engineering projects from overseas, it could not be considered bereft of US support.

“Having gone through this process now, this is a decision that has not been taken lightly anywhere within the company, and it is always difficult,” he said.

“It is no different today, but I can tell you that I have had the full support of the broader Ford Motor Company.” Asked to comment on the likelihood of Ford being able to maintain its design and engineering operations in Australia without a local manufacturing division, GM Holden chairman and managing director told ABC radio today that he knew of no such arrangements operating at General Motors across the globe.

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