SYDNEY – Ford Motor Co.’s all-new global compact-truck platform, dubbed Project T6, is set to expand from pickup-only at launch to include an SUV variant.

Ford wants to make full use of the potential created by its all-new Ranger architecture and has designed the upcoming SUV, to bow in late 2012 at the earliest, largely for developing markets.

The T6’s cab-on-chassis design has been engineered to lend itself to a 7-to-8-seat SUV version, in addition to three Ranger body-styles.

Ford led development of the T6 – the internal name for the new-generation Ranger and Mazda BT50 – under its One Ford strategy, but the Japanese auto maker was first to unveil its model to the media.

Ford followed the next day, in the build up to the public showing of both models at the Sydney international auto show this month.

Mazda Motor Corp. officials were only willing to discuss styling aspects of the T6, leaving it Ford to provide most of the details.

The idea is to gradually reveal full specifications before production and sales begin in mid-2011 in the first of the 188 countries on five continents so far planned to sell the Ranger. Europe won’t see the new pickup until mid-2012, sourced from Thailand.

Ford claims the T6 is, “the largest single vehicle-development program in Australia.” Although it won’t put a figure on the cost, the auto maker admits that is more than the $A1.23 billion ($1.21 billion) GM Holden Ltd. spent on the 2006 VE/WM program.

The new Ranger, to be built in Thailand (the sole source for the Mazda BT-50), South Africa and Argentina, is a far larger vehicle than the current model.

The long-wheelbase dual cab version, the only model so far seen publically, stretches to a 130.7-in. (332-cm) wheelbase, 4.9 ins. (12.4 cm) longer than the 125.8-in. (319.5 cm) wheelbase of the F150, and 12.6 ins. (32 cm) longer than the outgoing dual cab Ranger.

This helps explain the decision not to sell the new Ranger (or the BT-50) in the U.S. or Canada, though Mexico remains a possibility. “Our assumption, pretty much from the beginning was that it wouldn’t go to North America, says Gary Boes, T6 vehicle-line director. “We focused on other markets of the world.”

Mark Fields, president-The Americas, told Ward’s earlier this month the new Thai-built Ranger was too close in size to the F-150 to sell it in the U.S.

Ford plans to build the Ranger in three-body styles, 4x2 and 4x4 configurations, and high- and low-ride models, in five different series offerings. The available choices are intended to appeal to everyone, from Europe’s sports-pickup buyers to the more utilitarian functionality of worker demand from developing countries.

At this stage, Ford won’t be drawn into predicting manufacturing volumes, but one source here suggests an annual rate of 300,000 T6s would be achievable, and that, “there is a clear opportunity for growth.

T6 design work began at Ford Motor Co. of Australia Ltd.’s Broadmeadows, Victoria, design studios in late 2006, with teams from both Ford and Mazda developing the Ranger and BT50 in parallel.

Ford’s design group under Scott Strong, who since has returned to Dearborn, was led by exterior design chief Craig Metros, while the Mazda team was directed by chief designer Ryo Yanagisawa.

The two vehicles look distinctly different and are true to their brand’s styling DNA. Despite the visual disparity and common beneath-the-skin mechanicals, the windshield and rear window are shared. The door openings are identical in size, as well, as are the dimensions of the load-carrying area.

“We worked together,” says Metros, who previously worked on the F150. “We knew what (Mazda was) doing and we shared information. There was a clear strategy that the Ranger should look like a Ford.

“We looked at a lot of proposals to fill the band width, from North America’s traditional F-Series to influences from Europe’s kinetic design language.”

The 3-bar grille was chosen for its tough look, Metros notes. “The grille is an important feature on a truck; it’s the face of a truck. There is a definite truck-look, just as there is a definite car-look.

“Research showed our customers wanted a truck, and that’s what we’ve designed. It looks robust, as if it can do the job. At the same time, we wanted car levels of comfort, quality and features. The interior personality suggests these things, and everything speaks of strength.”

Mazda’s BT50 is a significant departure from the current model and wears plenty of the company’s Nagare design language. The pickup’s striking CX 9-like styling includes pumped-up front guards, 5-point grille and almond-shaped taillights for a more car-like appearance. Inside, too, the two dashboards are distinctly Ford and Mazda in their design themes.

Says Boes, T6 vehicle-line director, “You seldom get a chance to do an all-new vehicle. Obviously, this is a truck. But we also wanted to give it the Ford DNA in the way it drives and that required a new front suspension. We started from scratch and a new rear suspension.”

Instead of the ubiquitous MacPherson struts, Ford has gone to double-wishbones with coil spring-over-strut front suspension. The rear uses progressive rate semi-elliptic leaf springs.

Boes admits Ford looked at alternatives to the rear leaf springs but says, “We came to the conclusion that leaf springs are still the best in terms of robustness. The ability to be easily repaired in the middle of nowhere is still important.”

Steering is by hydraulically power-assisted rack and pinion. Electronic stability control that includes 4-wheel traction control and yaw control will be fitted in more-sophisticated markets.

Ford plans to launch with several engines, depending on the market. They include a 2.2L, 4-cyl. 150-hp TDCi turbodiesel that produces 277 ft.-lb. (375 Nm) of torque and a 3.1L, 5-cyl. 200-hp diesel that provides 347 lb-ft. (470 Nm) of torque. Ford claims it’s a 3.2L, but the engine’s capacity of 3,127cc is the same employed in the Transit commercial van.

Both engines are offered with Ford’s 6-speed manual or the American-sourced 6R80 6-speed automatic. Customers will be able to choose a variety of final drive ratios, from 3.31 to 5.30 depending on the drivetrain configuration. Low range also is available on all-wheel-drive models. Currently, there are no plans to fit Ford’s dual-clutch Powershift transmission to the Ranger.

Selected markets also will offer Ford’s 166-hp 2.5L 4-cyl. mill that makes 167 lb.-ft. (226 Nm) of torque and is mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. The engine is specifically tuned to run on a choice of gasoline, E100, compressed natural gas or liquefied propane gas.

Mazda says it currently plans to fit only the two Ford-sourced diesel engines in the BT50.

Ford says the new Ranger’s chassis frame is 20% stiffer than the previous model and employs hydraulic body mounts, as does the F150, to reduce noise intrusion. Ground clearance of up to 9.1 ins. (23 cm) is claimed.

The dual-cab cargo box is 39 ins. (99 cm) wider than before, 61 ins. (155 cm) long and 20.3 ins. (52 cm) high, with a maximum cargo width of 61.4 ins. (156 cm) and 45 ins. (114 cm) between the wheel arches.

Volume is 1,210L (1.21 cu-m) and the Ranger has the ability to carry a 3,307-lb. (1500 kg) load. The fuel tank holds 21 gallons (80L).