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Ford’s growing research and development facilities in Victoria — home of the Ranger and Everest — are not pigeonholed into developing certain vehicle types, insists head of product development for the region Trevor Worthington.

Worthington, an Australian expat living in China who oversaw development of the original Territory, said this week that the (soon to be) 1750-strong team of local designers and engineers could theoretically be deployed onto any project, decided on a needs-basis.

Ford’s Victorian facilities, centred in Broadmeadows and supported by a proving ground at Lara near Geelong, is one of three global centres alongside sites in Dearborn and Cologne. It serves as the home base for R&D in the Asia-Pacific.

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Despite being best-known for designing and developing the rugged body-on-frame Ranger ute and Everest ute (both made in Thailand) for the globe, Worthington said the options were theoretically much broader.

“To some extent, there’s nothing we can’t do,” he said to local media including CarAdvice.

“We have a capability beyond that… there’s no pigeonholing whatsoever, we have capability in cars, small cars like the Escort, medium cars, large cars like the Taurus, the Ranger and Everest body on frame [cars], so to some extent, there’s nothing we can’t do.”

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Pictured: The China-market Escort is an Australian creation

This follows on from our story last year, where we revealed that Ford’s Asia Pacific design and engineering facilities in Melbourne had the potential to branch out and lead the development of a range of more upmarket global models.

Last week, Ford Motor Company global president and CEO Mark Fields personally announced a boost in funding for the sites. Ford is increasing Australian R&D investment by 50 per cent to $450 million in 2017 to support “increased vehicle development programs”, reinforcing its standing as Australia’s main auto R&D force.

But what about going beyond even this? After all, Ford’s future lies in alternative fuels and vehicle autonomy, as it moves towards being a ‘transport solutions’ provider.

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Worthington did stop short of saying Ford Australia would lead any projects in this area, but the recent funding boost will help it be ready to help out in lesser ways.

“I wouldn’t be so brave as to say we’re ready to do that, but there’s a path of driver assist features on the way and full-level is in our future. We’re putting facilities in (at Lara) that’ll make it much easier for us to verify full level 2 semi-autonomous capability,” he said. 

“We’re not planning to be the core engineering piece, but as those features are deployed on programs in our cycle plans, we want to be able to fully validate them… we won’t be doing R&D, but we’re growing our capability in that area.”

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We went on to ask Worthington if he could confirm that the boosted Australian product development hub could at least be assured of developing the next-generation of the’ T6′ Ranger and the Everest. He wasn’t drawn.

“All I can say is product we’ve executed has resonated very well with our customers, whether that’s what we’ve worked on with the Chinese team, other programs we’ve taken on, Ranger and Everest, business that’s growing, making good money for the company.

“We’re able to service that footprint. I’m not saying we’re going to do more or less, but the key measure to me is ‘am I making sure I’ve got satisfied customers, plants and suppliers?'”

Vague. Guess he values keeping his job… But still, reason to be confident that there’s a place for vehicle engineers and designers at Ford Australia for a while yet.

MORE: Ford Australia gets R&D boost: Global president Fields in Melbourne, announces new funding
MORE: Ford Australia manufacturing ends, but 160 staff deployed to R&D operations
MORE: Ford Australia R&D team looks to develop more upmarket cars for the globe
MORE: Final Ford Falcon and Territory roll down the line: Final four to be auctioned for charity
MORE: Humans of Broadmeadows – the stories of Ford’s workers




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