Home on the range

The Ranger is one of the re­cent suc­cess sto­ries of the SA mo­tor in­dus­try. But it’s far from Ford’s only win­ner

Financial Mail - - SPECIAL REPORT -

An­other day, an­other mile­stone. When Ford Mo­tor Co of South­ern Africa reached the 500,000 pro­duc­tion mark for its cur­rent Ford Ranger pick-up in Au­gust, it was the lat­est in a se­ries of red-let­ter days since the Ranger was launched in 2011.

Or should that be orange-let­ter days? The half-mil­lionth ve­hi­cle was a Wild­trak dou­ble-cab in the range-top­per’s trade­mark orange colours. Ford has un­der­gone quite a tran­si­tion in the past seven years. Be­fore the strate­gic de­ci­sion was taken to con­cen­trate ex­clu­sively on Ranger, the Sil­ver­ton, Pre­to­ria, as­sem­bly plant built a lit­tle of ev­ery­thing — the Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50, Ford Ban­tam small pick-up and the Ford Fo­cus and Mazda 3 cars.

The com­pany orig­i­nally bud­geted R1.5bn to up­grade Sil­ver­ton and the Struan­dale engine plant in Port El­iz­a­beth, but this was soon dou­bled to R3bn. Even that proved to be only the start. Nearly R9bn has been spent in re­cent years to turn them into world-class plants.

To be­gin with, Sil­ver­ton built the ba­sic Ranger, in sin­gle-, su­per and dou­ble-cab ver­sions. As it has proved it­self an ef­fi­cient, cost­ef­fec­tive and re­li­able source plant, the prod­uct range has grown. In 2016, it added the Ever­est sports util­ity ve­hi­cle (SUV), a lux­ury ver­sion of Ranger. From 2019, it will build the Rap­tor, a new, high-per­for­mance ver­sion.

The Ranger pick-up — or bakkie — range has proved a re­mark­able suc­cess al­most from day one. Even af­ter an­nual ca­pac­ity was in­creased to 110,000, then-md Jeff Nemeth ob­served in 2013: “We have an or­der book that is big­ger than we can build.” Ca­pac­ity is now 124,000.

In the do­mes­tic mar­ket, Ranger is SA’S secon-most pop­u­lar ve­hi­cle, out­selling all cars. Some months, it has as­cended to the num­ber one spot. How­ever, it’s far from Ford’s only prod­uct suc­cess.

Ever­est is a leader in the SUV mar­ket, while pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles like Ecosport, Figo, Fi­esta and Fo­cus all have strong fol­low­ings. So does the iconic Mus­tang per­for­mance car. The Ford Tran­sit van is a lead­ing player in its mar­ket.

Most Ranger and Ever­est pro­duc­tion is ex­ported. Each month, the com­pany ships up to 8,000 ve­hi­cles to 148 mar­kets.

“The cur­rent Ranger has been a re­mark­able suc­cess story for Ford South­ern Africa” says Ock­ert

Berry, the global Ford group’s Sabased op­er­a­tions vice-pres­i­dent for Mid­dle East and Africa.

So has the Struan­dale engine plant, re­cently named the East­ern Cape’s top au­to­mo­tive ex­porter for a third time. New in­vest­ments dou­bled pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity this year.

Be­sides sup­ply­ing Du­ra­torq TDCI en­gines for Sil­ver­ton-built Rangers and Ever­ests, Struan­dale ex­ports en­gines to North Amer­ica, In­dia and China, and ma­chined com­po­nents to Ford plants in Ar­gentina and Thai­land.

In March, a new as­sem­bly line was opened for the bi-turbo diesel engine to be built into the Rap­tor. Plant man­ager John Cameron says pro­duc­tion is ex­pected to be­gin in No­vem­ber.

He says: “The new engine pro­gramme, com­bined with the ad­di­tion of a fur­ther 22 de­riv­a­tives of the Du­ra­torq TDCI engine to sup­port new cus­tomer plants in Italy, Turkey and Rus­sia, will help Struan­dale con­tinue to break pro­duc­tion records.”

Ford em­ploys 4,400 peo­ple di­rectly at Sil­ver­ton and Struan­dale, and sev­eral thou­sand more through its com­po­nents sup­ply net­work. It has been a vo­cal sup­porter of ef­forts to in­crease black par­tic­i­pa­tion in the sup­ply chain.

It is also a prom­i­nent voice in Sa-led at­tempts to de­velop a Sub­sa­ha­ran Africa mo­tor in­dus­try.

MD Neale Hill, who was ap­pointed this year, is also re­spon­si­ble for ac­tiv­i­ties across the re­gion. They in­clude a joint ven­ture in Nige­ria, where Sa-built Rangers are re­assem­bled for lo­cal cus­tomers.

Sa-born Hill, a 27-year Ford vet­eran whose over­seas man­age­ment ex­pe­ri­ence in­cludes stints in China, Thai­land, New Zealand and Aus­tralia, says that by 2024, 840m Africans will be of driv­ing age.

Most Sub-sa­ha­ran mar­kets are dom­i­nated by im­ported used cars but this will change as ur­ban­i­sa­tion and mid­dle-class de­mand ac­cel­er­ate. It won’t be a seam­less tran­si­tion. Bar­ri­ers to de­vel­op­ment, he says, in­clude po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity, fluc­tu­at­ing com­mod­ity prices, forex and skills short­ages and poor in­fra­struc­ture. But these can all be over­come through com­mit­ment, co-op­er­a­tion and re­gional in­te­gra­tion. The sign­ing this year of the African Con­ti­nen­tal Free Trade Area agree­ment was an im­por­tant step. Hill says: “We are ex­pand­ing our pres­ence ag­gres­sively across the con­ti­nent and es­tab­lish­ing a strong ser­vice net­work in Sub­sa­ha­ran Africa so that when the growth does hap­pen, we’ve got the in­fra-struc­ture to sup­port the busi­ness.”

Neale Hill: Ford eyes am­bi­tious growth into Sub-sa­ha­ran Africa

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