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Ford boosts Australian vehicle development

Fresh Fields: Ford president Mark Fields and Ford Australia president Graeme Whickman talk with journalists in Melbourne after announcing a major lift in R&D spending.

Australian-developed Fords set for the US under expansion of local R&D

22 Dec 2016

FORD Motor Company has announced plans to ramp up its Australian vehicle development spend by 50 per cent to $450 million next year after apparently giving the green light to Australian-developed next-generation vehicles for North America.

In a massive vote of confidence in the Asia Pacific Vehicle Development Centre after the global success of Australian-developed products such as the Ranger, Everest and China-specific Escort, Ford president and CEO Mark Fields flew into Melbourne today to announce the funding increase from the current $300 million a year to $450 million in 2017, along with an extra $50 million for new facilities and equipment to turn the Broadmeadows design and engineering centre into what Ford describes as Australia’s most advanced vehicle development campus.

Although Mr Fields was tight-lipped about the secret new products slated for development in Australia, he did not deny that the next-generation Ranger ute and its SUV spin-off, the Everest, would again have Australian origins.

This time around, the Aussie-developed Ranger is expected to be introduced into the North American market from about 2018, meaning more work for the Asia Pacific team in Victoria to prepare it for that jurisdiction.

It will be made in the United States for that market, as well as at existing sites in Thailand, South Africa and Argentina.

As well, industry rumours suggest a born-again Bronco SUV – most likely based on the Everest – is also on the agenda at Ford Asia Pacific Vehicle Development Centre facilities in Victoria.

Best known in Australia for the infamous OJ Simpson slow-motion police chase through Los Angeles after the murder of his wife Nicole, the Bronco has been out of production for more than a decade, but is now slated for resurrection in 2018.

To cope with the extra work load, Ford is recruiting engineers, designers and related professionals in Australia to boost its vehicle development ranks from the current 1500 to 1750 by next year, taking its overall staff in Australia to more than 2000 – by far the biggest in the Australian automotive industry in the post-manufacturing era.

Mr Fields described Australia as a key centre of innovation for Ford.

“The Australian team will build on their key role leading development of the global Everest SUV and Ranger pickup by creating more world-class vehicles and bringing even more fuel efficiency and safety innovations to customers,” he said.

The announcement followed a recent visit to Ford’s Detroit headquarters by Australian industry and innovation minister Greg Hunt, who was on hand for today’s announcement.

Mr Hunt said the federal government had promised to focus on enticing more young students into design and engineering courses and careers to provide the skilled workforce for Ford’s expanding operations.

He denied that any taxpayer support was going directly to Ford towards this R&D expansion.

“They did not ask for that, either,” he told GoAuto.

Ford Asia Pacific Vehicle Development vice-president Trevor Worthington said the main reason for the extra Australian operation funding was to help speed up vehicle development to achieve quality targets.

“The fact that we are growing means that we taking on additional skills to do things faster, We are expanding particular groups to be able to particular work faster,” he said.

“So we are manning up to deliver a much faster, much more comprehensive system that is going to deliver a better outcome for customers.”

Part of the $50 million promised by Mr Fields for new R&D facilities has already been spent on refurbishing Ford Australia’s old headquarters and transforming it into the new Asia Pacific Product Development Centre.

This includes a virtual design facility, dubbed Cave Automated Virtual Environment, to improve speed and efficiency.

As well, Ford will introduce a new area, called a “maker space”, to encourage designers and engineers to come up with innovations together.

The emissions testing laboratory is also being upgraded, while new test tracks – including one to test the latest driver aids – are being built at Ford’s You Yangs proving ground at Lara, near Geelong.

The design studios at Broadmeadows are also to get more space, along with an expanded milling workshop with a new milling machine for turning out models of new cars.

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