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Ford steers semi-autonomous course in Aus

Testing testing: Ford’s next-generation Ranger and Everest are likely to benefit from semi-autonomous technologies tested in Australia (current Ranger pictured).

New test track among facilities allow local Ford engineers validate driver aids

Ford logo23 Dec 2016

By RON HAMMERTON

AT LEAST part of Ford’s $50 million investment in new design and engineering facilities and equipment in Australia over the next two years is to help its vehicle development teams gear up for the brave new world of semi-autonomous vehicles.

A new test track at the company’s You Yangs proving ground at Lara, in Victoria, is being specifically installed to help validate new semi-autonomous electronic driver aids as they are engineered into new Australia-developed products such as the next-generation Ranger, Everest and – if speculation is correct – a born-again Bronco SUV.

Although these technologies are being developed in the United States, they will need to be applied, tested and validated on products now in the pipeline at Melbourne-based Ford Asia Pacific Vehicle Development Centre.

Ford Asia Pacific vice-president for vehicle development Trevor Worthington told journalists at an announcement of a major expansion of the Ford R&D program in Australia that “full level two semi-autonomous vehicles are in our future”.

Level two is described as a vehicle that will take control of most of the driving functions, such as lane keeping and braking, highway cruising, changing lanes automatically with driver prompts, and parking, as long as the driver keeps their hands on the wheel as the “co-pilot”.

“We are putting facilities in that will make it much easier for us to verify full level two semi-autonomous capability,” Mr Worthington said.

“We are not planning to do the core engineering piece, but as those pieces are employed in the product cycle program plans, we want to make sure we can fully validate them and feed those lessons back to the global teams.”

 center imageLeft: Ford Asia Pacific vice-president for vehicle development Trevor Worthington.Although Ford does not disclose its future model programs, the next-generation Ranger and its SUV spin-off, the Everest, are two potential candidates for these technologies, as is the Chinese Ford Taurus developed in Australia.

American luxury Lincolns have also been spotted at the You Yangs proving ground.

A Fiesta-based light car that appears to be under development in Australia for China is less likely to get the latest electronic aids, at least for now.

A current generation Fiesta development mule with what appears to be widened track has been spotted at the proving ground, along with a number of competitor cars for comparison testing.

Mr Worthington said that Ford’s decision to invest another $50 million on R&D facilities in Australia on top of previous large investments represented a “pretty big commitment”.

“It is about capacity but it also is about capability,” he said. “If you want to be world class, it means doing things on time and making sure you hit your dates for quality.

“So calls like this are fundamental to enable us to get to market quicker. Our customers are always very demanding and they expect the latest thing tomorrow.

“It is one thing to say it takes us five years to do that – they have moved on by then.

"So it is about putting the right tools in place and we certainly have the right engineers and designers and scientists who are trained to use those tools.”

Mr Worthington said Australian Ford designers and engineers had shown a flair for being innovative and quick on their feet.

He said the local team had Ford’s latest tools for vehicle development, and thanks to the “Aussie way of doing things”, the best practice for using them had been developed in Australia.

“That best practice has now been deployed across the world,” he said.

For 2017, Ford has committed $450 million to its Australian vehicle development operation – a 50 per cent jump on this year.

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