Think of Ford pickups, and it’s the F-Series that usually springs to mind. It’s not surprising really – the truck has been the best-selling vehicle in the US for 43 years, and halo products like the F-150 Raptor have helped cement the truck as a firm favourite with off-road enthusiasts in the region.
Americans love the F-150 as much as people in the Middle East love their mid-sized pickups. The two perform broadly similar roles in their respective markets – serving as a vehicle for work. Where US-owners enjoy the size, power, strength and versatility of the F-150 as a work and recreational truck, the Middle East owner requires the same traits in a vehicle that is also economical to run and focused on function.
For Ford, that truck is the Ranger. In markets where they’re both available, the Ranger trades blows with the Toyota Hilux as best-selling pickup in both the commercial and private sectors. The two are constantly pitched together in head-to-head comparisons, and often customers are faced with a choice of either one having eliminated all other options.
Ford introduced the Ranger nameplate in 1982 for the 1983 model year and the current generation Ranger – codenamed T6 – arrived in 2011 as an entirely new take on the mid-sized pickup. Designed, engineered and tested by Ford Australia, the T6 helped push the mid-sized pickup into the hands of more mainstream buyers who could use it for work during the week, and as a family car for carting kids and camping gear about on weekends.
At its core, the message at the time was tough-not-rough – with an exceptionally strong ladder-frame chassis design complimented by engine and cabin mounts designed to isolate the occupants from typical vibrations and noise associated with vehicles in the segment.
Refinement was key: light commercial vehicle users appreciated the quieter cabin and smoother ride that came from Ford’s attention to detail in addressing noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) design. Further refinements to the truck followed during a mid-cycle refresh – sound deadening under the bonnet helped to reduce powertrain, wind and road noise, making for a quieter cabin; updates to the engine management system helped to improve diesel performance and efficiency; and smart aerodynamic design also helped to further cut wind noise. New hydraulically damped engine mounts were also used to combat engine vibrations low frequency vibrations created by diesel engines.
Other features also helped propel the Ford Ranger to the forefront at the time. It was fitted with a battery charge system that made the most of deceleration, engaging the alternator on over-run to charge the battery rather than charging when the engine is under load. It was the first pickup to be awarded a five-star safety rating by Euro NCAP for adult occupant protection and child occupant protection.
Today, Ford says the Ranger gives buyers a smarter truck that is packed with advanced technologies that help drivers work smarter, safer and achieve more. Powerful and efficient engines help business owners to carry more while saving on fuel bills; impressive four wheel-drive performance and water-wading capabilities help them to go further off-grid when required; and class-leading towing capability (up to 3.5 tons, depending on model) and cargo box capacity (up to 1425kg) means they can take more equipment and goods when they do. High-end models like the XLT and Wildtrak even come equipped with technology packages like Ford’s SYNC 3 system – which helps drivers to remain productive on the go, and assisted parking features.
The truck’s toughness should resonate well with fleet operators in the region – just as it has elsewhere. With a shift towards diversified economies, nations within the GCC are undergoing enormous growth in many sectors. Saudi Arabia’s arid, mostly desert terrain and great temperature extremes calls for a tough, dependable truck designed to cope with the harshest conditions, year after year.
Ford markets the Ranger as truck for both work and play and splits those into five trim levels the Base, XL and XLS for more commercial applications – and the XLT and WIldtrak which up the comfort and technology levels considerably. The Ranger comes with a choice of two turbodiesel engines (2.2- and 3.2-litre) and one petrol (2.5-litre inline four), two- and four-wheel drive, and high- and low- riding chassis designs.
All share the Ranger’s blend of reliability, durability, and dependability which have been proven on the most rugged terrain and in the toughest weather conditions in the Middle East, Thailand, South Africa, Australia, Europe and the USA.
Not surprisingly, the Ford Ranger is well established as one of South Africa’s top sellers locally and dominates the extremely popular double cab segment. It is also proudly one of the country’s top vehicle exports, and is comfortably the leading light commercial vehicle (LCV) export. It remains the best-selling pickup in Europe too.
The Ford Ranger is built in three locations around the world: Rayong, Thailand; Silverton, South Africa and Wayne, Michigan.
Ranger in South Africa
Ford has two manufacturing plants in South Africa – one based in Silverton, Pretoria, which assembles the Ranger, and an engine manufacturing plant in Port Elizabeth, which produces turbodiesel engines for local supply and export.
Over the past decade, the Ford Motor Company has poured invested ZAR11-billion (USD740million) in its South African operations, culminating in its highest-ever installed production capacity for the Ford Ranger pickup and the Everest seven-seater sport utility vehicle (SUV).
“The past 10 years have seen a complete transformation of Ford’s manufacturing operations in South Africa,” said Neale Hill, Managing Director, Ford Motor Company Sub-Saharan Africa Region. “We have progressed from a low-volume multi-vehicle business primarily serving the domestic industry to becoming a high-volume single platform manufacturer that is the Ranger production source for 148 markets globally.
“The award-winning Ranger has been the key driver of this success, with ever-growing local and international demand resulting in extensive upgrades and improvements to our facilities to significantly increase our production capacity over the years,” Hill added. “From the installed capacity of 110,000 units when we began assembling the new-generation Ford Ranger in 2011, we now have the capacity to build 168,000 vehicles annually to meet future requirements.”
Investment in the global export programme commenced in 2009 to transform the local production facilities, comprising the Silverton Assembly Plant in Pretoria, as well as the Struandale Engine Plant in Port Elizabeth, into a high-volume flexible single platform operation for the trend-setting new-generation Ranger and its Duratorq TDCi turbodiesel engines.
In 2016, Ford invested in further expansion of Ranger production and, notably, for the local assembly of the sophisticated Everest SUV for South Africa as well as for export to markets across the Sub-Saharan Africa region.
Previously imported from Thailand, local assembly of the Everest gave customers a far wider range of choice, as the line-up increased from just two models to a choice of eight derivatives – matched to a corresponding uptake in sales for this versatile seven-seater SUV. Localising production also contributed towards creating approximately 1,200 new jobs at Ford South Africa and within its local supplier network.
“We are extremely proud that Ford is one of the largest employers in the automotive sector, currently employing approximately 4,100 people in South Africa, and supporting around 40,000 indirect jobs within the value chain,” Hill stated.
2017 saw the announcement of another major capital injection into Ford’s local operations to accommodate further increases in installed capacity, with the current capability of producing up to 168,000 units annually.
“The ongoing investments and extensive upgrades to our plants have ensured that we are ready to meet current and future demand, with the potential for increased job opportunities,” Hill said.
Struandale Engine Plant
Ford has had a presence in Port Elizabeth since 1923. The Struandale Engine Plant was established in 1964 and currently produces two engine lines: the Duratorq TDCi 2.2- and 3.2-litre turbodiesel engine, and a new generation 2.0-litre bi-turbo and single turbo diesel engine.
The Duratorq programme was launched in 2011 to produce engines for Ranger. Components from suppliers in the UK, Germany, France and Brazil are machined at the plant and then either assembled and sent to Silverton to be fitted to Ranger pickups or Everest SUVs or Kansas City in the US to power the Transit van. Struandale also supplies assembled engines to Russia, Turkey and Italy.
The plant also supplies machined engine component kits (cylinder heads, block and crankshaft) to Ford plants in Thailand and Argentina. Approximately 410 Duratorq engines are assembled and around 850 component kits are machined every day.
Installed capacity for the Duratorq TDCi program has grown from the original 220,000 machined component sets (cylinder head, block and crankshaft) in 2011 to 280,000 by the end of 2018. Engine assembly capacity increased from 75,000 to 130,000 engines per annum over the same period.
The second engine line was formed as part of the ZAR3-billion (USD200 million) investment in Silverton and Struandale in 2016. Construction of the new assembly hall started in 2017, and job one rolled off the line In November 2018. Since then, staff have assembled close to 52,000 2.0-litre single and bi-turbo diesel engines.
Using components machined by Ford Dagenham in the UK, the plant uses an automated sub-assembly line for the cylinder head. Highly skilled assembly crew members are employed on the line, using advanced camera and scanning systems to eliminate production line errors.
Working in two shifts, five days per week, the team produces 320 assembled engines every day.
Installed capacity for the new engine assembly line is 120,000 units per year, contributing to a highest-ever combined capacity of 250,000 engines for the Port Elizabeth plant.
Fuel efficiency is a key driver for many fleet operators – and even small savings in daily fuel use can pay enormously over time. Ford recently demonstrated the efficiency of its 2.2-litre Duratorq diesel engine by handing it to a pair of Dubai content creators and asking them to see just how far they could get on a single tank of fuel.
Completed at the height of the Middle East summer, the pair brimmed the 80-litre tank and drove the Ranger on 250km loops of the northern emirates, covering sections of motorway and mountain road driving.