Ford hints end nigh for its car making

“We believe you can have research and development without manufacturing” … Ford Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano.FORD has given the strongest hint yet it’s considering a life in Australia without manufacturing. In a frank admission, the president of Ford Australia, Bob Graziano, said manufacturing was no longer critical to the Australian operation’s survival.

”We believe you can have research and development without manufacturing. It clearly helps to have manufacturing and we’re very fortunate in that we have manufacturing, research and development and a stunning test facility,” he said yesterday.

His comments are a strong indication that Ford is preparing to ditch manufacturing in Australia once its commitments to the federal and Victorian governments are over.

In January, Ford and the two governments announced a $103 million deal to retain manufacturing of the Falcon and Territory models until the end of 2016.

Ford spokeswoman Sinead Phipps told ABC radio that Mr Graziano was not implying that the company was planning to shut down manufacturing in Australia.

“There was no hint implied in any way shape or form,” she said.

Ms Phipps said the Ford president was taking about “manufacturing in terms of the context of the design process”.

She said that Ford was currently investigating “what comes after” 2016 for manufacturing in Australia.

With sales of the Falcon appearing to be in a terminal slump, and many predicting its decline before the natural end of the current generation in 2016, Ford has turned the spotlight on its ability to design and engineer vehicles for the global stage.

Mr Graziano says the company’s design and engineering operation is one of only three centres of excellence for Ford, along with headquarters in Detroit and Cologne.

Ford says the number of design staff at the Broadmeadows facility in Victoria has almost tripled in the past 18 months. Mr Graziano said the increase, coupled with technological upgrades, has placed the organisation in a strong position to develop cars for the world.

”Australia is one of only 13 countries in the world that can design and manufacture a vehicle from the ground up,” he said.

”The automotive industry is also the largest R&D contributor in the Australian manufacturing sector. Our ability to work on global vehicle programs is a critical part of this.

”We are also perfectly positioned to be involved with the next two automotive powerhouses – India and China.”

Mr Graziano was speaking at the opening of a new virtual reality design studio in Broadmeadows that allows designers to sit in a virtual car years before it is built.

He said the 1000-strong design and engineering workforce was evidence that Ford was not just a manufacturing concern.

Ford sales year-to-date are down by 5 per cent in a market that is up 10 per cent. Most of that decline can be laid at the feet of the Falcon – sales of the big Aussie sedan are down by almost 30 per cent this year.

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