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Global projects for Ford Australia roll on

Feather in the cap: The Ford Ranger, a truly global ute, was developed by the Blue Oval's Autralian team.

Regional Ford exec says Australia needs more engineering, design experts – not less

17 May 2013

FORD’S Asia-Pacific product development centre in Melbourne continues to play a vital role in global design and engineering for the automotive giant, with its forward cycle plan “totally full”.

While sales of the locally made Falcon continue to plummet to record lows, and while its future as an Australian car-maker remains unconfirmed beyond 2016, the work Ford’s local team has done developing product such as the Figo hatch and Ranger ute for international markets has not gone unnoticed.

As Ford’s vehicle and engine manufacturing operations in Australia remain the subject of ongoing speculation, the company’s Chinese-based Asia-Pacific passenger vehicle and SUV programs director Trevor Worthington has revealed that its development arm is chock-a-block with projects.

A former vice-president of product development at Ford Australia, Mr Worthington spoke to GoAuto at the EcoSport launch this week in India, telling us that while he cannot detail the specifics, the team of designers and engineers remained important contributors within Ford’s international operations.

“We have a forward cycle plan that has the Ford factory (design and engineering centre) in Australia totally full, so they’re working on a range of things,” he said.

“I’m not going to tell you what they are and aren’t working on, but they have shown themselves to be totally capable of working on almost anything we throw at them, and so the factory is full and if anything we need more people in Australia, not less.

“There’s no magic to this, we have 1000 engineers in Australia, they are doing outstanding work, and they are doing regional, they are doing local, and they are doing global.

“To be a relevant engineering centre you’ve got to have flexibility to do what the company needs, to be able to jump out of one and into the other, and we’ve been able to create a workforce that has that flexibility.” Before relocating to Thailand in 2008 as director of product planning and strategy for Ford’s Asia-Pacific and Africa region, and subsequently moving to his current post in China, Mr Worthington led the Australian team responsible for all all programs built off the Falcon platform, including the BA and FG Falcon series and the Territory SUV.

As previously reported, Ford opened its heavily refurbished design and engineering facility, next door to its Broadmeadows assembly plant in Melbourne’s outer-northern suburbs, in August last year.

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

With the Asia-Pacific region becoming increasingly important to Ford’s global plans – its ‘One Ford’ encompasses its push into emerging markets – Australia’s relative geographical proximity should serve it well.

Ford’s comparatively small Australian team has already created the Figo for India, a successful B-segment car based on the superseded Fiesta, and managed the global development of the new-generation Ranger ute.

The centre also had significant design input on the Chinese-market Escort concept revealed in Shanghai last month, and has been working on a rugged SUV version of the Ranger – prototypes of which have now been seen on Melbourne roads.

The Australian-based engineers and designers have also been involved in the highly anticipated next-generation Mustang, a global program – including right-hand drive – due to reach production in 2015.

Former Ford Asia Pacific and Africa design director Chris Svensson told GoAuto at the Sydney motor show last October that each of the company’s six design studios outside the US – including Australia’s – were continuing to play a role in the design of the all-new pony car, among other global models.

“Our impact from the Australian design studio has been pretty global,” he said.

“We’ve got a fantastic team in the design studio here, great talent, and some of our designers and some of our ideas have actually made it into many of the global products that you’ll see in the coming years.” Australian rear-wheel-drive engineering expertise is also understood to be feeding into the next-generation Mustang program.

Ford Australia’s E8 (Falcon/Territory RWD platform) vehicle line director Dave Wilkinson told GoAuto at the Sydney show that “there’s a huge amount of functional alignment” between engineers in Australia and the US.

“Chassis engineers here are in constant contact with the chassis engineers in America and in Europe and around the world,” he said.

“Our expertise (in rear-wheel-drive vehicles) is embedded in the Ford DNA, in the Ford targets around the world.

“It’s very much an interconnected, functionally aligned Ford now – very different to what it was 15 years ago.”

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