By: Jason Woosey

Pretoria - There was a festive mood at Ford's Silverton plant in Gauteng on Tuesday as the first locally-built Everest rolled down the assembly line.

Expanded range

Not only does the move create more jobs for South Africans, it will also make the Ranger-based SUV more accessible to local consumers. Until now the Everest had been imported from Thailand and was only available in high-specification 3.2-litre 4x4 guise but now a far wider range, including more affordable variants, will be available.

Ford has yet to go into detail on the new offerings, but has given an outline of the range, which will be expanded from two to eight derivatives, of which five will be powered by Ford's 2.2-litre TDCi turbodiesel, rated at 118kW and 385Nm.

Four of the 2.2s are rear-wheel driven, offering a choice between XLS and XLT spec grades as well as manual and automatic gearboxes. Ford will also introduce a 2.2-litre XLS in 4x4 guise, with six-speed manual transmission.

The 147kW/470Nm 3.2-litre TDCi turbodiesel models will continue at the top of the range, with the current XLT and Limited 4x4s now joined by a 3.2 XLT 4x2, also with automatic transmission.

Though prices have yet to be announced, Ford is promising that the new 2.2-litre Everests will offer “exceptional value”. Toyota's Fortuner diesel models currently sell for between R454 000 and R613 200 and the Ford will need to move into this territory if it is to have any chance of challenging its Japanese rival's sales dominance.

In the last three months Toyota sold a monthly average of 1277 Fortuners, versus 106 units in the case of the higher-end Everest 3.2s, which currently retail for between R634 900 and R698 900. The only remaining question is to what degree Ford is going to narrow that vast sales gap.

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