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Ford praises new 'ideas fund'

Work in progress: Ford’s design and engineering facilities in Australia will be the automotive industry’s biggest employer once local manufacturing stops in 2017.

New-look Ford finds sympathetic ear in Canberra as it builds automotive R&D hub

Ford logo9 Dec 2015

By RON HAMMERTON

FORD Australia has given the federal government a closed-doors briefing about its plans beyond the end of manufacturing next year, in an effort to get Canberra to throw support behind the new-look industry and its heavy emphasis on design and engineering.

Company president and CEO Graeme Whickman revealed today that he had already had one round of talks with the newly appointed industry and innovation minister, Christopher Pyne, and planned to “continue the dialogue”.

Speaking at the 50th anniversary celebrations for Ford’s You Yangs proving ground in Victoria, Mr Whickman was effusive in his praise for the Turnbull government’s new push on innovation in Australia.

While he did not directly criticise the previous Abbot government’s policies on automotive industry development in Australia, he said the environment had improved, “We are always in constant dialogue with government,” he said. “In fact, I was with minister Pyne last week, setting out our plan for the future.

“I am heartened by the government’s point of view about bolstering innovation.

“There is a great connectivity between the approach of the government and that of Ford, and Ford is very supportive of what the government is planning.”

 center imageLeft: Ford Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman.The proposed innovation scheme outlined this week by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull involves a $1.1 billion fund to back business-based research, development and innovation over the next four years.

When the announcement was made, Mr Pyne held up Ford as an example of companies leading the way in Australian research and development.

Ford has spent more than $300 million on automotive research and development in Australia this year, bringing the spend for the past six years to $2 billion.

The company expects to be Australia’s biggest automotive industry employer once mass manufacturing ends in 2017, with about 1100 engineers and designers providing the core of its workforce of 1500.

Mr Whickman said Ford had benefited from the federal government’s $3 billion Automotive Transformation Scheme – a fund established by the former Labor government in 2011 to assist automotive companies in R&D.

The scheme is set to be phased out by 2017 as car manufacturing by the Big Three manufacturers – Toyota, Holden and Ford – dies out.

However, Mr Whickman indicated that Ford would seek renewed assistance for the vehicle development industry that will remain.

“We have a relationship with the ATS that will change,” he said. “That is something that we will have a dialogue with the government around going forward to demonstrate to them that we are a powerful contributor to the economy and exporting expertise.”

Ford Australia is working on a number of unspecified projects for the Blue Oval's global markets, including China and India.

Mr Whickman would not be drawn on what vehicles Ford’s engineers and designers have under development at its three R&D facilities in Victoria – at Campbellfield, Geelong and the You Yangs proving ground.’However, they include the next generation of the locally developed Ranger ute and related Everest SUV.

The secret engineering “mules” were locked away out of sight when motoring journalists visited the proving ground today to a guide tour of several of its test laboratories and a drive of the all-new, American-built Mustang on one of the handling circuits.

Ford’s increased spending on R&D was evident at the 930-hectare site, with new emissions labs being installed to handle future Euro 7 exhaust standards and a large new office block nearing completion.

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