Ford Asia Pacific product development vice president Trevor Worthington last week told Australian journalists at the unveiling of the locally designed and engineered Everest SUV in China that Ford’s design centre in Melbourne was “being fully utilised” working on “a number of projects”, though declined to go into detail about the exact number or nature of the projects currently underway.
A Ford Australia veteran of almost 30 years, Worthington says it is vital the local design and engineering hub has a diverse portfolio of projects to remain relevant at all levels: local, regional and global.
“We want to fill it with a range of different vehicles because I think it’s healthy in any factory … to have expertise in a range of different elements of work, not just be an expert in a Falcon or a Ranger,” he said.
“And so that’s what’s happening. We’ve got a range of different work, we’ve got really good facilities, we’ve invested a lot of money in facilities and our design studio. The initial investment was for Ranger and we’ve been able to use that investment very well to deliver products that you guys have seen and haven’t seen yet.”
Worthington says Ford Australia’s track record with developing a diverse range of vehicles is well regarded by those at Ford HQ in Detroit.
“Absolutely. We wouldn’t be doing the work if we didn’t have that regard and it’s been proved over a long period of time: Falcon work, Territory work, the work we did for India back in the early 2000s [for] the four-door Fiesta first and then the Figo, Ranger, and now we’re talking about Escort.”
“I always had a view that there were local products, regional products and global products, and to some extent if we didn’t have a mix of those I think we were missing an opportunity to be regional experts – an expert in what it took to be successful in Australia, but also I think there’s some expertise in the region that’s appropriate globally, and Ranger is a good example of that.”
Ford Australia led the design and engineering of the current Ranger pick-up, which is sold in approximately 180 countries, and is currently working on the facelift that's due to launch alongside the Everest next year.
Worthington believes that with a diverse range of products in its portfolio, the local team needs to work as efficiently as possible, creating vehicles that look, feel and drive like more expensive models.
“What we’ve had to learn on the journey over the past 10 years is what does it take to be successful in developing vehicles that have got lower cost but wouldn’t be perceived by the market as low cost or value vehicles.
“We might use those words internally, but when you show an Escort to a Chinese customer or you show a Fiesta or a Figo to an Indian customer, they don’t see them as being low-cost vehicles – they look at them as being aspirational vehicles based on the amount of money in their pocket.”
He said he expects Ford Australia to develop more and more premium vehicles in the coming years as markets, particularly those in Asia Pacific, develop, and their ability to spend more money on a broader range of products expands.
“I think there is a natural affinity for all western automotive companies to tailor to that. I think the ones that are going to be successful are going to be the ones that understand what achieving low cost means but not achieving the appearance of a low-cost vehicle, that’s the nut that will crack."
Ford Australia’s 1100-strong design and engineering workforce will continue to work on local, regional and global programs in Melbourne after its factory workers – currently totalling under 900 staff – depart by October 2016 when production comes to an end.