By: Colin Windell
The new Ford Ranger and Everest are real and live. A sneak preview of the newcomers at the Ford plant in Silverton, Pretoria showed two vehicles that are much better looking in the flesh than could be gleaned from the carefully crafted preview images that have been widely circulated during the past months as the build project ramped up.
Albeit the preview vehicles were left-hand drive imports and not necessarily with the same specification that will appear in the local models when launched later this year, the initial impression is one of quality and refinement coupled with attention-grabbing looks.
However, perhaps as important as the vehicles themselves is the massive investment that has gone into transforming the plant into a state-of-the-art modern assembly facility where hi-tech computer control ensures the specific part is delivered to where it is needed and at the right time.
This production line is building the current Ranger models. Although the same strenuous levels of quality checks are in place, it serves to help fine-tune the increased production volumes that will be required for the new Ranger to be exported to dozens of countries overseas and within Africa.
Ford invested R15.8 billion in its South African manufacturing operations, marking the biggest investment in Ford’s 98-year history in South Africa. It also represents one of the largest investments in the South African automotive industry, boosting Ford’s production capability and creating new jobs.
This included hiring an additional 1 200 team members to support expanded production, bringing its workforce in South Africa to 5 500 employees. The investment will create an estimated 10 000 new jobs across Ford’s local supplier network
A R10.3bn investment in technology, upgrades and new facilities at the Silverton plant will support high-quality, efficient production of the all-new Ranger, while annual installed capacity of the Silverton plant will increase to 200 000 vehicles, from 168 000, for domestic sales and export to more than 100 global markets.
Silverton will become one of the first Ford plants globally to achieve ‘Island Mode’ status, becoming entirely energy self-sufficient and carbon neutral by 2024.
“This investment will further modernise our South African operations, helping them to play an even more important role in the turnaround and growth of our global automotive operations, as well as our strategic alliance with Volkswagen,” says Dianne Craig, president, Ford’s International Markets Group.
“Ranger is one of our highest volume, most successful global vehicles. This investment will equip our team with the tools and facilities to deliver the best Ford Ranger ever, in higher numbers and with superior quality.”
“As part of our extensive investment in the Silverton plant, we also are building a new Ford-owned and operated chassis line in the Tshwane Automotive Special Economic Zone (TASEZ) for this new vehicle programme,” says Ockert Berry, vice president, Operations, for Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa.
Additionally, Ford has invested R600-million in the Struandale Engine Plant in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth). This investment supports the launch of a new 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel engine, as well as upgrades to the existing assembly line for the 2.0-litre Single Turbo and 2.0-litre Bi-Turbo diesel engines – all of which will be offered in the Ford Ranger.
In developing the new Ranger, Everest and Raptor the company collaborated with customers across the globe to create a vehicle and ownership experience that next-gen Ranger owners can rely on for their businesses, family lives and adventure.
“With Ranger, we’ve had a big extended family for decades,” says Jim Farley, the president and CEO. “This truck has always been a trusted partner to small business owners, farmers, families, adventurers, commercial fleets and so many more in more than 180 markets around the world.
“And with the new Ranger, this is our moment to deliver. Not just a product our customers will love, but an always-on experience that will help us build strong and lasting relationships with them. This is the midsize truck people will want to own and experience.”
The “experience” comes in the form of a carefully crafted programme called Always-On that is a commitment to customers with a host of services centred on convenience on their terms. Depending on market, the include service pick-up and delivery, a Ranger Concierge programme and streamlined online service booking options among them.
“When we reimagined the Ranger, we set out to create more than just a great new pick-up truck; we set out to design a great experience as well,” says Dianne Craig, the president of Ford’s International Markets Group. “We are a family company, and we want our customers to feel like part of our family. The vehicle sale is just the beginning of our journey together.”
According to Tracy Delate, who heads Ford’s Dealer and Customer Service operations, all local dealers have responded enthusiastically to the new plan.
Visually, the new Ranger is bold and confident, with a purposeful exterior that shares Ford’s global truck design DNA.
The design features a defined new grille and signature C-clamp headlight treatment at the front while a shoulder line down the sides incorporates bolder wheel-arches. For the first time, Ford Ranger offers matrix LED headlights.
Inside, the car-like cabin steps up, using premium soft-touch materials, and prominent portrait-style centre touch screen with Ford’s signature SYNC 4 connectivity and entertainment system.
Beneath the new bodywork is an upgraded chassis riding on a wheelbase 50mm longer and a track 50mm wider than the prior Ranger. A hydro-formed front-end structure creates more space in the engine bay for the new V6 engine and helps future-proof the Ranger for other propulsion technologies. It also opens the front of the pick-up to allow more airflow to the radiator, which helps keep running temperatures low when towing or carrying heavy loads.
Engineers moved the front wheels forward by 50mm for a better approach angle and outboard for better off-road articulation, both of which improve the off-roading experience. They also shifted the rear suspension dampers outboard of the frame rails to give drivers and passengers a better ride on and off-road, no matter if they are carrying heavy cargo for work, or just taking the family out for dinner.
“When we started imagining the next-gen Everest, we started not at the beginning but at the end – with our customers,” says Ian Foston, the chief platform engineer for Everest. “They are people who like adventure, recreation and being able to go out with family and friends. Whether conquering sand, rocks or city life, these customers appreciate the utility, capability and spaciousness of an SUV.”
Armed with more customer input than ever before, Foston said the objective for the next-gen Everest was clear: tough on the outside, sanctuary on the inside and amazing capability underneath.
We were shown the new flagship Platinum grade version that bristles with on-board tech and luxury and will step up the model’s challenge to the large luxury off-road market.
Everest’s wider track and longer wheelbase enabled designers to create a more progressive, muscular appearance. Ford’s global design DNA is reflected in the C-clamp headlamps and strong horizontal upper grille bar. The front end also has a mix of horizontal and vertical elements, which add to the stable appearance.
On the sides, there is a strong shoulder line front to back, while the wider track results in a more dramatic swell over the wheels, enhancing the strong and modern look.
Inside is a full-width coast-to-coast instrument panel and centre console with dual cup holder recesses, plus dash-mounted ‘pop out’ cup holders for front seat occupants.
Depending on trim level, Everest comes with 8-inch or 12.4-inch digital instrument panels that replace the traditional analogue clusters. Everest also features large, high-resolution portrait 10.1-inch or 12-inch touch screens.
A 50mm increase in next-gen Everest’s track helps deliver a more controlled ride on-road, while tweaks to damper settings allowed the team to inject more fun and control into the Everest’s ride, both on and off-road.
The art of a true tease is to leave you wanting more… and I want more.
Visit Colin-on-Cars for more driving impressions by Colin Windell