Ford Motor Company global president and CEO Mark Fields, in Australia for a series of meetings, personally announced today's boost in funding for the Victorian sites that developed the global Ranger and Everest, among numerous other product.
Ford said it was increasing Australian R&D investment by 50 per cent to $450 million in 2017 to support "increased vehicle development programs", though as expected, no senior staffer would discuss what future product would emerge from the Australian team.
However, Ford's head of product development for the region Trevor Worthington, a China-based Australian who oversaw the original Territory, said the local team was "capable of anything", though suggested we would not be a hub for electrification or autonomy.
Nor would he confirm that the next-generation Ranger and Everest will be created here, though reading the tea leaves and between the lines, we'd expect that the likelihood of this remains high.
What we do know is that by next year, Ford will have a 2000-person strong team in Australia, including 1750 engineers, designers and technicians based in Melbourne and Geelong, and from 2018 will be the nation's biggest OEM automative employer.
The Blue Oval has also transformed its head office in Broadmeadows, which abuts the now-closed production lines, into a new product development centre as part of an additional $50 million dollar investment.
The new Asia Pacific Product Development Centre (APPDC) features state-of-the-art virtual design and engineering capability, and will be the "centrepiece of Australia's most advanced automotive development campus".
The centre positions Ford as the car-maker with the most comprehensive capability to design and engineer vehicles in Australia, though arch-rival Holden retains a smaller operation centred at its Lang Lang proving ground and Port Melbourne design studio.
"Ford is investing heavily in new products and mobility solutions globally to make our customers' lives better, and Australia is a key centre of innovation for us," said Fields, in warm-and-fuzzy style.
"The Australian team will build on their key role leading development of the global Everest SUV and Ranger pickup by creating more world-class vehicles and bringing even more fuel efficiency and safety innovations to customers."
Also in attendance was federal minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Greg Hunt MP, who elucidated on the government's plan to grow education in engineering and design, though concrete plans were hard to glean.
"The significant investments announced today by Ford Motor Company are a clear indication of the future direction and great opportunities for the automotive industry in Australia," he said.
"The future of advanced manufacturing in Australia lies in value-adding activities from product concept, research and development, design and efficient production systems and I welcome Ford's R&D commitment and the roll out of their Asia-Pacific Product Development Centre here at Broadmeadows.
"Being part of the global automotive supply chain and R&D process is important for jobs and local business opportunities."
What is clear is that getting hold of a 'pipeline' of talented young people to fill the shoes of outgoing Ford designers and engineers is tough, which is why Ford sponsors a number of primary and high school programs, and university courses.
Ford is also increasing its commitment to helping develop the next generation of engineers and designers. Ford recently raised $300,000 to expand student robotics programs in Broadmeadows and Geelong partner schools. Ford engineers will personally mentor students in these Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM) programs to develop and program robots for competition around the world.
To specifics: the new APPDC benefits from Ford's Cave Automated Virtual Environment, which allows engineers to work in a detailed virtual-reality environment to improve speed and efficiency. As part of the separate $50 million investment, Ford is expanding and enhancing several other key facilities, including:
- Expansion of the Ford Asia Pacific Design Studio in 2017, including increasing the modeling capacity and nearly doubling the state-of-the-art milling area with the addition of a new five-axis mill
- Upgrades to the company's 950-hectacre Lara Proving Ground outside Geelong. It will feature new test facilities including durability, crash, noise vibration and harshness. Ford also is adding a new test area at the proving ground to support validation of a greater range of driver assist technologies
- New maker space within the Broadmeadows development campus to help employees pursue even more innovations much like the company's TechShop in the U.S., which helped Ford patent more ideas in 2016 than any other automaker
- Upgrades to Ford's emissions testing laboratory as the company invests significantly in fuel-saving to help customers save at the pump while meeting stringent emissions standards
Pictured above: Ford Australia developed the China-market Escort
On a global basis, Ford filed 3200 patents this year while more than 8000 new inventions were submitted by employees in 2016, a 40 per cent increase from the previous year and a more than 90 per cent jump versus 2014.
"It's an exciting time as Ford transforms into an auto and mobility company, and our team in Australia will play a key role in delivering the breakthroughs and solutions for customers not only in Australia but around the world," said Worthington.
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