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Ford Oz development at full tilt as Everest SUV teased

More Aussie designed and developed Fords in pipeline as Everest SUV reveal looms

4 Nov 2014

FORD’S booming Australian design and engineering department is already leading more large scale product development projects for Asia-Pacific and the world as the Blue Oval prepares for its second Chinese world debut of a vehicle developed Down Under.

The November 13 global unveiling of the production Everest SUV – ahead of its Australian launch in the second half of 2015 – follows the April Beijing motor show reveal of the Chinese market Escort small sedan, for which Australia had significant input and will officially launch at the Guangzhou show on November 20.

Naturally Ford is keeping details of the latest projects under wraps but GoAuto has noted an increase in the number of heavily camouflaged engineering mules sighted in the area around the You Yangs proving ground near Geelong in Victoria, believed to be the seventh-generation North American Taurus large sedan.

Without going into specifics, Ford Asia Pacific product communications director Sinead Phipps told GoAuto there is “absolutely” more to come from the busy Australian design and development department – and the Aussie team’s breadth of ability means this could be almost any type of vehicle.

“The Australian team 10 years ago developed a large sedan, they did the Territory SUV then they got involved in Ranger having never developed a truck like that before and created an all-new platform for that,” she said.

“They've now done a small (Escort) sedan for China and did the Figo (light hatch) for India, so they actually have a very broad skill base and there's nothing that they necessarily can’t do … That organisation will continue to lead product development programmes for Asia Pacific and the rest of the world – and support other ones as well.” The situation at Holden is a sad and stark contrast, with 350 local engineering workers facing the dole queue or redeployment in Europe, South Korea and the United States by the end of this year, with further losses to come as General Motors winds down Australian operations.

Although the Everest teaser image and accompanying video announcing the unveiling do little to shed any light on the T6 Ranger ute-based seven-seat off-roader’s appearance, GoAuto can exclusively reveal more of the premium features that will elevate the model above similarly rugged rivals like the Holden Colorado 7 and Isuzu MU-X, making the Everest more of a Toyota Prado rival.

The latest feature to be spotted on Australian Everest test vehicles is a hands-free electric tailgate activated by waving a foot beneath the rear bumper, as introduced to the local Ford range on the second-generation Kuga compact SUV in April 2013.

Windscreen-mounted instruments scooped by GoAuto on some Everest mules in August are now more obviously part of an adaptive cruise control system – as debuted here on the Mondeo mid-sizer in 2009 – and autonomous emergency braking first seen on the Kuga and recently introduced on the Focus.

Some variants also appear to be fitted with dual long-range fuel tanks for outback adventuring, while the Ranger’s leaf springs have been replaced with coils and a self-levelling system to enable the SUV to deliver on Ford’s promise that the Everest will be “rugged, refined and amazingly capable”.

As reported, a multi-mode terrain controller spotted on test cars suggests the presence of a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system rather than the Ranger’s simpler part-time four-wheel drive set-up, consistent with conclusions drawn by GoAuto in April when Everest mules were observed being benchmarked against the class-leading Prado.

Australian market cars will be sourced from the same production facility as the Ranger and its Mazda BT-50 twin at Rayong in Thailand, and are expected to share the 147kW/470Nm 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine of upper-spec variants.

The teaser image and video of the production Everest comprise a close-up of its front quarter and similarly zoomed-in footage panning across its front-end, revealing little more than its close resemblance to the concept unveiled at a Sydney event in August 2013.

Even the colour used is similar to the concept’s, but Ford’s Australian designers appear to have slightly reduced the depth of the grille for the showroom version.

Interestingly, the latest spy shots of the facelifted Ford Ranger suggest the refreshed ute will be differentiated by another version of the Everest’s grille that is bookended by ‘nostril’ air intakes similar to those of Ford’s North American F-trucks.

Director of the Melbourne-based Ford Design Centre, Todd Willing highlighted the years of effort that went into aligning Ford’s global design strategy with insights from customers in all the key markets that will receive the Everest.

“This is our vision of a large, seven-seat off-road vehicle that exemplifies how Ford’s “One Ford” vehicle philosophy can apply for a vehicle created for Asia Pacific,” he said.

“The Everest is also further proof of the world-class design expertise here in Melbourne. Many of the talented team who worked on Everest – and continue to work on other Ford vehicles – have been educated right here in Victoria.” In the 2011 launch of its T6 Ranger one-tonne ute, with which the Everest shares many structural and mechanical components, Ford made much of the punishing development testing regime it meted out to secure a go-anywhere, do-anything ability and reputation for the product.

Australia’s harsh outback environment loomed large in the Ranger’s durability programme and the Everest has apparently received similar treatment, with the new teaser video showing test mules on dusty desert tracks to follow up previously issued photos of sand-bashing camouflaged test vehicles.

Ford says the SUV will “enable extraordinary journeys far off the beaten path, building on Ford’s long heritage as an innovator and leader in utility vehicles”.

Everest test mules have also been spotted undertaking high-altitude testing among the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in the United States, suggesting Ford has plans to sell the car in South America where it also builds and sells the Ranger, but Ms Phipps told GoAuto the Asia Pacific market will have the seven-seater to itself for now.

Ford Asia Pacific vice president of product development Trevor Worthington said bringing the new Everest to market has taken five years and 4500 man-years of design and development work and that these efforts will “redefine what customers can expect from an SUV”.

“Everyone at Ford is very proud of this new SUV,” added Mr Willing.

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