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Ford Australia’s test centre turns 50

Testing times: Ford’s You Yangs proving ground might be 50 years old, but it is now at the epicentre of Australian vehicle development for global markets.

Golden anniversary for Ford’s You Yangs proving ground marks new chapter

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Ford logo9 Dec 2015

FORD’S You Yangs proving ground in Victoria has turned 50, and, like many middle-aged Australians, it has never been busier.

The Blue Oval company today threw open the 930-hectare facility to Australian motoring journalists for a peek inside the usually secret environs, while at the same time giving them a taste of the newly arrived Mustang muscle car on one of the many test tracks.

It is somewhat appropriate that this imported Yankee interloper – the spiritual substitute for the Australian-developed big-banger Falcons – should make its local debut at the place where the first true-blue Australian performance Falcon, the "Mustang-bred" 1967 XR GT, first turned a tyre-smoking wheel.

Like golden anniversary bookends on a golden chapter of Australian motoring history, the two muscle cars went on display side-by-side at the proving ground, where an entirely new golden chapter is being written by more than 300 engineers, technicians and support staff who form a critical part of Ford Motor Company’s global new-model development network.

Working around the clock, the engineers are toiling on multiple projects for international markets, all under the cloak of secrecy.

The hectic workload at the proving ground is in great contrast to the diminishing activities at Ford’s Broadmeadows assembly plant, where production is set to end next year.

While Ford will not discuss new-model projects underway at the You Yangs, it is happy to talk about past vehicle development triumphs, including the Ford Ranger that is now sold in 180 markets around the world, and the related Everest SUV.

The Ford Figo – a Fiesta-based, Indian-built light hatch back for developing markets – also saw light of day on the sun-burned plains in the shadows of the barren You Yangs hills, at Lara, near Geelong.

The Chinese-market Ford Taurus and Escort small car were also put through their paces by the proving ground team that works hand in hand with colleagues at two other vehicle development facilities in Victoria – the Asia-Pacific design and engineering centre at Cambellfield, in Melbourne’s north, and the Geelong Research and Development Centre.

All up, the company employs more than 1100 highly skilled workers on vehicle development, some of whom were recruited from arch-rival Holden as it slashed its Australian engineering force in recent years.

The expansion at the proving ground is evident, with a large new office building now dominating the landscape, replacing portable buildings that were added to cope with the influx of new talent.

Ford has spent more than $300 million on vehicle research and development this year, bringing the six-year tally to $2 billion.

Ford Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman said it was important to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the proving ground, while also highlighting the continuing role it plays in both the immediate community and Ford Australia.

“We’re very proud of the fact that the Ford team in Australia has been recognised as the ‘go to guys’ for vehicle development,” he said.

Mr Whickman said the proving ground, the $27 million Geelong Research and Development Centre and the Asia-Pacific Engineering Centre in Campbellfield were “instrumental in Ford’s on-going investment story, as the company continued to build its capability as an innovator and centre of excellence for the Asia Pacific region post-2017”.

Mr Whickman said Ford would be the biggest automotive employer in Australia once car manufacturing ceased in 2017.

Located about 50 km south-west of Melbourne, the proving ground has more than 80km of roads, tracks and other surfaces such as skid pans and water dips to test ride, handling, NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), and dust and water resistance of its vehicles.

Hidden away in the various buildings are the Advanced Centre for Automotive Research and Testing (ACART), a Vehicle Semi-Anechoic Chamber (VSAC), a kinematics and compliance rig and a High Speed Centre.

The proving ground also boasts a crash-test centre with high-speed cameras.

The facility was opened in 1965 – about eight years after Holden opened its proving ground at Lang Lang, also in Victoria, in 1957.

According to Ford, one of the first tests of the fledgling facility was a 112,600km endurance run for the 1965 Falcon XP sedan, setting 49 Australian endurance records along the way.

Since then, every Ford Falcon generation has been tested and perfected at the proving ground, right up to the current – and last – model, the FG X.

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