CANBERRA – Ford Motor Co. of Australia Ltd. will receive a A$52.5 million ($40.4 million) grant from the Australian government for two projects, including the design and engineering of the architecture for a new range of light-commercial vehicles to be sold in 80 countries under the Ford brand.

Engineered for both right- and left-hand drive and to be manufactured in multiple locations, the first derivative most likely will be a pickup truck, although the architecture has the capability for a variety of configurations and body styles, company officials say.

“The (research and development) work Ford will do in Australia on behalf of its global parent company will be a showcase for Australian expertise and will help lift the profile of the country’s entire automotive sector,” Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane says.

The auto maker, one of Austalia’s Big Four vehicle producers, says its new strategic direction includes investment in the new projects and accompanying facilities totaling more than A$1.8 billion ($1.4 billion) over the next decade.

Prime Minister John Howard says A$40 million ($31 million) of the government grant is for the design, engineering and manufacture of the next-generation Ford Falcon large car and Territory SUV.

The remaining A$12.5 million ($9.6 million) is for the design and engineering of the new light-commercial vehicles.

“The light-commercial-vehicle project will involve the construction of a new R&D facility by Ford Australia in Victoria,” Howard says. “This will not only serve to position Ford Australia for the global market but will significantly strengthen Australia as Ford (Motor’s) major design and engineering center within the (Asia/Pacific) region.”

Howard says the projects will create 273 jobs at Ford Australia and help secure the future of more than 6,000 Australian families as well as “the iconic” Ford Falcon.

The Australian government’s assistance is conditional upon Ford providing the Australian automotive parts sector with every fair and reasonable opportunity to supply the necessary components for the projects.

“The funding has helped Ford Australia secure the largest automotive R&D project ever undertaken in Australia,” Macfarlane says. “This is an investment in the domestic automotive industry’s move towards a more high-tech, high value-added future and opens a new door for our local, world-class components makers.”

Ford Australia says its product development team will take an enhanced role as an engineering and design center for the Asia/Pacific and Africa region. As a result, it will expand its core design and engineering staff.

The long-term goal has the blessing of the parent company.

"As we work to build Ford Motor Co.'s global competitiveness, it is critical that we continue to invest and grow our capabilities in the Asia/Pacific region," Chairman and CEO Bill Ford says in a statement from Detroit.

"The engineering experience and capability we have in Australia is a strategic advantage for Ford, and it is important that we use this great resource not just to benefit Australian customers but to benefit customers in markets around the world.

The skills and technologies available in the Australian marketplace are some of the best in our global organization.”

Trevor Worthington, Ford Australia vice president-product development, says significant engineering and design work over a number of years still is required before formal program approval for the new light vehicle will be granted by the parent company.

“Once this occurs, the architecture derivatives are expected to result in more than 400,000 sales annually," he says.

The design and engineering program is expected to generate in excess of A$470 million ($362 million) in research and development revenues for Ford Australia during the course of the project.

Ford vice president and president-Asia/Pacific and Africa, Peter Daniel, says the Asia-Pacific region is vitally important to the car industry globally.

"The design and engineering capability built up by Ford Australia's product-development team with the success of recent projects, such as the BA and BF Falcon; the Territory; and most recently the design and engineering of a new Fiesta specifically for the Indian market, has ensured the team is best placed to lead major new projects in this region,” he says.

"This regional capability is critical as Asian economies mature and consumers continue to demand outstanding motor vehicles tailored to their specific requirements."

Says Ford Australia President Tom Gorman: “Although some of these plans are longer term in nature, the recognition shown to our product-development team and the broader Ford Australia business through projects, such as the light-commercial-vehicle architecture and the state-of-the-art rear-wheel-drive platform, proves that we are on the right track, and that our direction is the right one for the future of our company."