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