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Performax keeps US products pumping

Mainstay: Ford F-series trucks will replace the Chevrolet Silverado as the bread and butter underpinning the business plan of importer and converter Performax International.

Growing pains to be short-lived as Performax prepares for Ford F-series success

8 Sep 2014

ENGINEERING and gaining compliance for three new products caused some financial pain for Queensland-based importer and converter of American vehicles, Performax International, last financial year, but its efforts are not expected to take long to bear fruit.

Having achieved a first for the company with full-volume ADR compliance on the F-Series Super Duty full-size pick-up trucks – requiring four years and an investment of $2.5 million – Performax is now able to convert and sell as many of these vehicles as it can find customers for.

“Last financial year was a tough one because we had a lot of R&D on this (F-series), a lot of R&D on the Chevy (Silverado), a model change on the (Toyota) Tundra and we had new models from Dodge,” Performax general manager Glenn Soper told GoAuto at last week’s F-250 launch.

“Every product we sell required R&D, tool-up and compliance so there was a lot of work going on without a lot of things being sold – the new models tend to really hurt.”

But Performax is confident it will get a good return on investment due to the F-truck’s high market awareness, courtesy of Ford Australia.

“Chevy (Silverado) has been our money-spinner and now this (F-series) is going to be on the pedestal for that,” said Mr Soper.

“All the work that Ford (Australia) did with the Brazilian F-truck essentially has created a mindset in consumers over here that this truck isn’t grey market, it’s actually a vehicle that’s able to be bought through the network and that has a lot of power in terms of taking away some of the potential angst of a person buying a converted vehicle.

“It’s just that mindset that it is a regular OEM vehicle, people have that trust and have already created that following for the Blue Oval. It has more awareness than Chevys, Dodges and (Toyota) Tundras and as a result it will take over as our bread-and-butter product.”

More Ford F-trucks are on the way, with the F-350 in single rear wheel guise before the end of this year and potentially the F-450 and F-550 heavy haulers next year before the all-new, all-aluminium 14th-generation F-series Super Duty range arrives in two or three years’ time.

Performax also intends to launch the base-spec XL and XLT variants with a smaller extra-cab body as price leaders appealing to tradies.

Speaking at the F-250 launch, Performax director Greg Waters said part of the decision to include the extra-cab was the fact he had noticed the majority of tradies still driving old F-250s were using that body style.

He said it was ironic that Performax was originally prompted to start converting big American trucks when Ford Australia introduced the F-250 early last decade in a low-grade utilitarian spec, sparking customer demand for more luxurious equivalents.

New products will keep coming, with Performax now in the process of preparing the latest Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and 2500 to hit the streets by the end of this year or early next – and the more upmarket GMC Sierra Denali version cannot be far behind.

The Toyota Tundra that Performax introduced in April is a recently-released current model with plenty of years’ life left in it and the Dodge Ram 2500 Performax started selling conversions of last August is not expected to be updated until 2018.

Mr Soper explained that the Ford F-truck is unique among its peers because the only way Performax – or anyone else – can bring F-trucks to market is through full-volume compliance, partly due to Ford Australia being the official importer for some years and because another company had full-volume compliance from a legacy program from when it used to convert ambulances.

“The F-Truck has never made it to the SEVS (Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicle Scheme) register and as such we had to get full-volume compliance to be able to retail it ourselves,” said Mr Soper.

“From 2007 onwards to current day you could do it through full-volume only … nobody can bring in an F-truck under low-volume (and) it’s really difficult to get full-volume compliance without the manufacturer’s endorsement.”

Despite Mr Soper being ex-Ford, it still took four years to get full-volume compliance for the F-Series as he found closed doors on numerous avenues that would have helped it obtain engineering information and support from the Blue Oval.

Although Mr Soper agreed the recent experience gained through obtaining full-volume compliance for the F-Series created a “roadmap” that placed Performax well to go for the same option on other vehicles, he would not be drawn on whether the company has decided to follow this route.

However he did say that bringing in smaller US trucks like the Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram 1500 under full-volume compliance was unviable, as their ADR classification as light goods vehicles means examples of each must be crash-tested.

Performax is currently working on converting the latest C7 Chevrolet Corvette sportscar, which is proving challenging due to the asymmetrical driver-oriented interior, the layout of climate-control components behind the dashboard and a large protrusion into the right-hand footwell.

Unlike most vehicles, the outer air vents are different on each side and the way the curvature of the dashboard is met by the door trims is different on each side, forcing Performax to create those components from scratch. This is all compounded by the compactness of the cabin and packaging of under-bonnet components.

Mr Soper agreed that this means customers can expect to pay more for a converted C7 than for previous Corvettes.

Although the company’s roots are in converting muscle cars like the Corvette, Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, the fact Ford Australia will introduce the next-generation pony car to this country in right-hand drive is expected to reduce demand for such products and Performax is forecasting conversions of this type to account for only a handful of annual sales.

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