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Ford Australia turns focus to design

Success story: The Ford Ranger was designed and engineered in Australia and is sold in 180 countries worldwide.

Sales may be down, but Ford Australia invests heavily in refurbished design centre

29 Aug 2012

A HEALTHY local car industry is vital to Australia’s quest to develop into a “knowledge economy”, according to Ford Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano, who this week showcased the company’s newly redeveloped Australian design centre in Melbourne.

Mr Graziano said this week that the automotive industry was the largest research and development contributor in the Australian manufacturing sector, and that its updated design facility would allow it to continue to contribute design and engineering projects for the world stage.

“Australia is one of only 13 countries in the world that can design, engineer and produce a vehicle from the ground up,” he said.

“We are a can-do country and, if we are serious about Australia becoming a knowledge economy, we need strategic capability. A first-class education system and the ability to build things. High-tech value-added products like cars are the building blocks.

“The automotive industry is also the largest R&D contributor in the Australian manufacturing sector, our ability to work on global programs is a critical part of this.

“We are also perfectly positioned to be involved with the next two automotive powerhouses, India and China.”

 center imageFrom top: Ford president and CEO Bob Graziano Ford Territory Ford Figo.

Ford claims the refurbishment of the design centre has brought the facility into line with the company’s other major global design centres in the United States (Dearborn) and Germany (Cologne).

The expanded R&D centre at its Campbellfield headquarters now includes a brand new virtual reality design studio that lets developers sit inside a car even before it becomes a prototype.

Ford says it has almost tripled the number of design staff employed here since January 2011, while the 1000-plus designers and engineers at the centre – also the hub for operations in the Asia/Pacific and African regions – meant Ford Australia was more than just a manufacturer.

With question marks still hovering over the viability of its local manufacturing arm here beyond 2016, Mr Graziano said the company had decided to highlight its ability to design and engineer vehicles such as the successful Ranger ute and Figo light car for the world stage.

“Locally, there is a lot of focus on our manufacturing, but here (at the design and engineering centre) is where it all begins – the smart design and technical development that culminates in vehicles that are sold around the world,” he said.

“It’s why we’ve been able to invest in the refurbished design studio and the virtual reality centre – one of three such centres in Ford globally and the only one in Australia.

“The results of what happens here in the design centre are now being seen on roads throughout Asia/Pacific, Africa and the world.” Ford Australia recently announced it would downsize its local manufacturing operation at Broadmeadows in November, laying off 440 staff, as a result of the precipitous drop in sales of the Falcon large car that has for so long been its staple product.

The cut in Falcon production will also see the Territory – which will be exported in small numbers to Thailand – comprise almost half of the company’s local production.

Falcon sales are down 28 per cent to the end of July this year, and the company has yet to commit to building the car beyond 2016.

While Mr Graziano would not be drawn on the future of Falcon, he did say that hypothetically a global engineering and design centre could be viable in a country without a manufacturing base, although it was not the best option.

“There are some people that think you’ve got to have manufacturing capability with research and development capability,” he said.

“We think you can have R&D without manufacturing, but it clearly helps to have manufacturing and we’re very fortunate to have both manufacturing, the R&D and a really stunning test facility as well.

“We’ve got the whole package here and that’s what we’re leveraging for the programs we are working on.” Ford’s local testing facility is the You Yangs Proving Ground in Melbourne’s outer west, which was opened in 1965 and has more than 80km of testing surfaces.

The company did not reveal any future design and engineering briefs for global markets, and whether any of these could be as significant as the global Ranger Ute, although it pointed out the Ranger’s ‘T6’ platform has been designed for other vehicles down the track.

GoAuto understands this will include an SUV derivative of the Ranger ute to compete with forthcoming vehicles such as the Holden Colorado 7, although a Ford source told us that nothing would be announced until at least mid-2013.

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