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Exclusive: Aussie engineers working on Geely flagship
China and India become fertile ground for enterprising ex-FPV engineers at Premcar
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20 May 2014
THE Australian-based team of engineers responsible for Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) performance sedans has reinvented itself as a successful high-end engineering resource for up-and-coming motor companies in China and India.
Once called Prodrive Australia but now called Premcar, the company has quietly built a stable of five Chinese automotive manufacturing clients and one in India, working on new products in areas such as chassis development and vehicle integration from two locations – in Campbellfield, near the original FPV factory and engineering centre in Melbourne’s north, and Shanghai.
The transformation has been going on under a cloak of secrecy since 2006 as the company diversified in the face of Ford’s Australian manufacturing windback of FPV and imminent closure of local manufacturing from 2016.
Premcar already has worked on vehicles for Chinese companies Changan (Ford’s Chinese joint-venture partner), GAC Gonow, Dongfeng and ZX Auto, but its current big client is China’s second-largest domestic passenger car-maker Geely.
GoAuto has spotted what is thought to be one of China’s most anticipated new cars – Geely’s Volvo-based flagship EC9 large sedan – in and around the Premcar engineering centre in Campbellfield where Premcar is believed to be working on the chassis tune ahead of the vehicle’s rollout in China in 2015 and – possibly – Australia after that.
The luxury car was shown in concept form as the Geely KC at last year’s Shanghai auto show where it not only previewed Geely’s new design language – wrought by former Volvo and Ford head designer Peter Horbury – but also a new generation of Geelys built on top-shelf platforms borrowed from Geely subsidiary Volvo.
The KC concept – and the EC9 production version – reportedly are based on the stretched S60L version of Volvo’s mass-selling mid-sizer made by Geely in China.
Despite disguises on the prototype in Melbourne, the distinctive multi-slatted grille – the new signature design for Geely products – was the giveaway to the origins of the mystery car which has had fan chat-rooms buzzing.
Premcar – run by three former Prodrive and FPV executives who bought the Australian engineering division from British Prodrive boss David Richards in June 2012 – is a welcome good-news story as the Australian automotive industry – including much of its engineering capacity – implodes.
As well, the Geely project is another example of how local automotive design and engineering is swinging from Australian-focused vehicles to China and India, with Ford Australia and Holden Design also turning out projects for the auto industries there.
Ford Australia had a hand in the new China-only Escort small car shown at the recent Beijing motor show, while Holden helped to design the Adra compact SUV concept shown at this year’s Delhi motor show.
Premcar business development and marketing director Paul Cook – who bought the business with fellow directors Bernie Quinn and Jim Jovanovski almost two years ago – confirmed to GoAuto that Geely was a customer of the operation which splits its engineering programs between China and Australia.
English-born Mr Cook, who worked with Land Rover, Jaguar, Opel, Lotus and Cosworth before joining Prodrive Australia in 2004, also said the firm was currently working with Geely.
Although he declined to disclose details of current projects, he said the company had started to develop its Chinese business in 2005 when partner and now Premcar engineering director Mr Quinn established a Prodrive office in Shanghai.
“It is all part of the transition we had to go through with the change with Ford in Australia,” Mr Cook said.
“So the Premcar business is basically the engineering group that was solely responsible for all the FPV engineering, including stuff such as the development of the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 (Project Miami).
“In 2012, when Ford started to implement the ‘One Ford’ policy firmly in Australia and Prodrive parted with Ford, it was decided to separate the FPV joint venture.
“The engineering business was no longer required for FPV within the Prodrive group, so myself and two of the other senior managers were offered the opportunity to acquire the business and take it forward. That’s when Premcar was born.” Mr Cook said most of Premcar’s engineering work is now with Chinese clients at an OE (original equipment) level, meaning it frequently gets in on the ground floor to help develop new vehicles from the beginning.
“So, now the majority of the work we do is for the Chinese and a little bit of work for Ford, plus some work for the Indians (Mahindra),” he said.
“We have been building the business brick by brick. In China – without trying to blow our own trumpet – we are pretty high up there in first choices when it comes to chassis development from a clean piece of paper, all the way through to retuning a chassis when it all goes horribly wrong.” From a staff of 24 in 2012, the company now has 30 working on various projects, using the latest computer-aided programs to develop chassis architectures and other components.
Mr Cook said the company’s strength was the depth of engineering talent in Australia, honed over decades of Australian automotive engineering.
He said Premcar frequently took a lead engineering role in projects, sometimes showing overseas engineers the processes but also frequently “hands on” when “we just need to get the job done”.
According to Chinese automotive news website China Car Times, the KC Concept will emerge as the Geely Emgrand EC9 next year, powered by a choice of 2.0-litre turbo and 2.4-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder engines.
It described the car as “Geely’s Passat CC”, a coupe-style sports sedan designed to turn heads. With Volvo underpinnings and Horbury design, the car is likely to be a five-star safety performer, designed for western standards.
While it is unclear if the EC9 will make it to Australia where Perth-based Chinese Automotive Distributors (CAD) has the import rights for the Chinese brand, CAD has stated that it plans to import the new-generation of Volvo-based Geely models from 2015.
Geely bought Volvo from Ford for a bargain-basement $1.5 billion in 2010, reinvigorating the Swedish brand while also using its advanced engineering to overhaul its own range.
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