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Nissan’s Warrior backed by Aussie expertise

Victoria’s Premcar now on global stage as it begins Nissan Navara Warrior production

14 Jan 2020

AUSTRALIA’S world-class vehicle engineering reputation took another leap forward with Nissan selecting Premcar as its partner in delivering its first premium ute, the Navara N-Trek Warrior.
 
A rival to the Ford Ranger Raptor and Toyota Rugged X, the Warrior calls on Australian design and engineering expertise and springboards Premcar – formerly Tickford Vehicle Engineering (TVE) and then Prodrive Automotive Technology Australia until a 2012 management buyout – into international prominence.
 
The Melbourne-based engineering firm is now close to finalising a 6300-square-metre extension and a doubling of production capacity at its Epping headquarters on the back of strengthening orders for the Warrior and work from offshore contracts in industries as diverse as aviation, defence and rail.
 
Nissan is now supplying the Warrior through its dealerships, fed by Premcar’s current 13-unit-a-day capacity, with Nissan Australia managing director Stephen Lester saying supply is predicted to be increased to meet expected demand.
 
For Premcar’s engineering director and co-founder, Bernie Quinn, Warrior is a perfect opportunity to showcase what he believes are some smart Australian automotive businesses.
 
“Our business is in creating a one-stop shop,” he told GoAuto at the launch of the Nissan N-Trek Warrior at Mt Hotham in December.
 
“As Australia moved away from local vehicle manufacture, we found a gap in the market for a mix of vehicle design style and engineering that’s no longer available here.
 
“I now consider Premcar to be at the sweet spot of what we do. There is a global market for the expertise we have in Australia to create personalised vehicles for niche customers.
 
“We use Australian expertise with Australian resources – from design to testing and validation – for predominantly Australian customers.
 
“The Nissan Warrior is exactly what we do best and we are now working with Nissan and other manufacturers for other examples.”
 
He said the ute was the product of a strong chain of automotive engineering firms including suppliers Monroe (springs), EGR Group (frontal protection), Hella (lights) and RP Group (plastics).
 
“There was great synergy between Nissan and Premcar and the suppliers,” he said.
 
“We wanted the same things. Warrior would have better off-road capability, steering response, handling, cornering capability and stability than the standard Navara, as well as the obvious ‘tough truck’ looks.”
 
Suppliers provided components including a new purpose-designed and -built towbar that was needed to fix to the rear chassis while skirting the larger spare tyre cradle for the full-size spare.
 
The genesis of the Warrior followed the trend to premium-performance dual-cab utes, such as the Ford Ranger Raptor and Toyota HiLux Rugged X – and the explosion of aftermarket body and mechanical upgrades from 4WD suppliers.
 
Mr Quinn said it also followed the theme of Arctic Trucks’ AT32 that is based on a Navara. Arctic Trucks, based in Iceland, also makes modified versions of the HiLux, Isuzu D-Max and Volkswagen Amarok.
 
“AT32 would have been an easy option for Nissan but it is based on the European Navara and differs in a few critical ways and not necessarily perfect for the Australian customer or Australian road conditions,” he said.
 
“In building and specifying this vehicle, we ticked the boxes for components that most people would want.
 
“That included the towbar, front bar, bash plate and light bar, but not a snorkel or winch which we found was too niche.”
 
Mr Quinn said to meet the challenge of building the Warrior in Australia, Premcar created local jobs.
 
“Because of the Nissan work, we have employed 40 more people with most coming from a background with Holden, Toyota and Ford and are re-entering the industry,” he said.
 
“It’s super-exciting to see these people on our team. There’s a genuine buzz at our place. The work they do and the passion they have creates new products that have become so popular we are in production six days a week and are now expanding our production areas to cope with this demand.”
 
Premcar employs 185 staff with 80 at Epping, five in its Campbellfield prototype workshop and about 100 product development engineers working with Ford at its offices.
 
Epping has a single production line and is now being expanded to cope with customers including Nissan. Mr Quinn said that in addition to the second line, Premcar can move to double shifts to meet demand for the vehicles.
 
Though Nissan is the public face of Premcar’s current work, there is a lot of activity behind the scenes in other areas.
 
“As an example of the work we do behind the scenes, we are working on a new car for a small US-based sportscar-maker,” he said.
 
“The car is being built initially in the US before production shifts to China. Premcar is developing suspension and steering systems as well as conducting powertrain integration for the coupe.
 
“We have been involved in electric vehicles from an engineering perspective, including for a major Chinese client who wanted a suspension package for its EV that would suit the car and its intended market.
 
“We also have work with land-based military vehicles. We have done work with one particular company in the defence space for about 10 years so this is an extension of that relationship.
 
“In addition, we plan to work with a company on a rail project that is under development, and we delivered a substantial aviation project in 2015.”
 
Mr Quinn said there were some parallels with Australian carbon-fibre wheel manufacturer Carbon Revolution, and was asked if following that company into a public listing was plausible.
 
“We haven’t seriously considered this however we never say never,” he said.
 
“I imagine it would mean taking time out of what our main function is, which is designing and building vehicles.”
 
Mr Quinn said Premcar sold 25 per cent of the company in 2017 to German company RLE International which is involved in automotive engineering.
 
“The US sportscar development came to us via RLE, so the partnership with RLE International is a mutually beneficial arrangement,” he said.
 
Premcar now turns over about $30 million a year, up from the $3 million in revenue when the company was created by the management buyout of Prodrive Automotive Technology in 2012.
 
The management buyout was by Mr Quinn and his business partner and fellow director Jim Jovanovski. Each owns 37.5 per cent of the company, with RLE making up the balance.
 
Mr Quinn started working with Premcar’s predecessor, Prodrive, in 2003. Prodrive itself came out of Tickford in 2002.

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