Decades of designing and building what are essentially unique vehicles have allowed the Australian automotive industry to achieve a level of global relevance despite the fact only 380,000 cars are produced there each year. It is a success predicated largely on skills developed by making the most of limited resources, which may explain why Oz is becoming increasingly important to GM, Ford and Toyota. "We make 54 models off of 14 variants off of one architecture," says Ian McCleave, Holden's executive director, Planning and Program Management. "And we build them all in one plant." (You can see why Bob Lutz endures those 15-hour flights to Melbourne.) Ford's story is similar. Its Australian engineering staff has been designing variants off of Falcon platforms since the Kennedy Administration and currently transform the rear-wheel-drive layout into models as diverse as sports coupes and SUVs. Even Toyota's young Australian designers have cultivated the wherewithal to quickly develop a drivable futuristic sports coupe from scratch on their own. Couple that experience with the fact that Australia sits in the same time zone as the fastest-growing auto market in the world, and it becomes easier to understand why it has earned a prominent role in automakers' global strategies.
FORD OF AUSTRALIA: GAINING TERRITORY. "We have two objectives," says Thomas J. Gorman, president, Ford of Australia: "First, success in Australia. Second, to be a source of intellectual capital for the rest of Asia-Pacific." To help meet the first objective, Ford recently launched its first homegrown SUV, the Territory, which is based on the Falcon platform. Oddly enough, the Territory is the only domestically produced SUV in a rugged country that is in the midst of surging SUV sales. A signal success for Ford, it has become a top-selling vehicle within its segment, and is helping the company reverse a downward sales trend. It may be the most radical re-working of the Falcon platform to date, requiring a new floorpan, an AWD system and new sheetmetal, but it was all done for less than US $400-million. Says Gorman, "By global standards Territory volume is relatively small at 20,000 to 30,000 units per year, so we have to be able to design and develop efficiently to survive at that low a volume."
This is a major challenge since Ford of Australia isn't a major exporter, and is doesn't share any global Ford platforms. "We have to be a lot more efficient and effective in the total value chain –not just design and development, but how we work with our supplier partners," says Gorman. "Thus far we have been able to do that. We have a competitive advantage within the Ford world." An example: according to Russell Christophers, director, Falcon & Territory vehicle lines, the original panel stamping plan for Territory called for an average of 4.5 dies per part, but budget constraints dictated two. So the design team reduced the curvatures on many panels to cut the overall number of dies and worked with the die supplier to squeeze three or four parts out of each stamping. The result is an average of only 1.5 dies per part.
As for objective number two, Gorman says, "I see us growing in product design and development importance within the Asia-Pacific region because the potential growth for our products in those markets is quite staggering. It's really good timing for us, the demand is there and the capability is here."