SUPER DUTY

Ford’s F-Series is now available in full right-hand-drive throughout Australia

It’s been a long time coming, but Aussies looking for a full-sized Yankee-style ute can now pick their ideal F250, thanks to Gympie-based Performax International.

Back in the days when Ford Australia loudly trumpeted its American heritage it offered our domestic market an F250 powered by a 7.3-litre, turbo diesel V8 or 4.2-litre six-cylinder petrol engine. Rather than being built in Louisville, Kentucky, this rather low spec’ offering hailed from Brazil, the only available source of a right-hand-drive model.

Having shaved the Brazilian option out of the Australian market, advocates for the F-Series have since waxed lyrical about importing alternatives. The limiting factor here being the need to convert from left to right-hand-drive, which often took place in New Zealand, prior to the vehicle landing on our shores.

One company that has gained considerable respect for converting vehicles from North American speFord-F-Series_3c’ to suit Aussie conditions is Gympie, Qld-based Performax International.

Founder Greg Waters originally established a loving relationship with Chevrolet Corvettes and, to his credit, since 1989 he is responsible for having imported and converted pretty much the majority of Corvettes on Australian roads. The importation and conversion of trucks started back in 1996 with a collection of GMC units for the Victorian Ambulance Service.

The intervening years have seen Performax International expand its model range to include the Chevrolet Silverado, Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra and, the object of our interest in this editorial, the F-Series Ford Super Duty range.

Up until now the annual market for imported and converted cars and utes from North America has averaged around 1000 units, with Performax International being responsible for around 50 percent of this total volume.

Such is the growing interest in US-styled utes that the imported car market for conversion currently comprises only around five percent of the total volume of imports. The recent decision by Ford to import the right-hand-drive Mustang, which is assembled on the company’s US production line, has contributed to this emphasis away from small volume conversion of performance cars.

Through the years there have been various dispensations extended to those looking to convert vehicles with permits granted for a limited volume import. While enabling buyers to enjoy the benefits afforded by the typical North American style crew-cab ute, there have been varying standards in the conversions.

Performax International is the first company to be accredited as a full volume manufacturer with Australian Design Rule (ADR) approval and compliance. This followed a six month development programme led by former GM Holden and Ford Australia engineers working at the company’s Gympie, Queensland, manufacturing headquarters.

Ford-F-Series_2Now, with the development work completed, production has begun for right-hand-drive F-250 XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum models. Future plans include the subsequent expansion of the range to include the F350, 450 and 650 versions. Thanks to the full ADR compliance, the F-series can be road registered in all Australian states and territories. These will be sold directly by Performax International and through dealers around Australia.

Every F-250 is powered by a 6.7-litre, V8, common-rail, turbo-diesel engine, and for the 2015 model year version this will be producing 328 kW of power and a massive 1166 Nm of torque. All models feature a six-speed automatic transmission and shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive, providing an unmatched five-tonne towing capacity. Work is completed to ISO 9001 Quality Assurance standards and the company is also certified to ISO/TS 16949 (Automotive Quality Management).

“We’re tremendously proud of this latest achievement, which is the pinnacle of all our years of experience and perseverance with quality standards,” Performax general manager, Glenn Soper, said.

“Old-fashioned conversion methods are no longer acceptable to customers buying these sophisticated new American pick-ups. In engineering, electronics and final fit and finish, the Performax difference ensures we build every vehicle to factory-original quality standards.

“The F-Series has been one of America’s most popular vehicle ranges for six decades, with many people in Australia keen to see the nameplate back on the road here. Pre-launch demand has been very strong,” added Glen.

To see at first hand the exacting production qualities in force at the Performax International manufacturing centre, Delivery Magazine headed off to home base at Gympie.

The production system at the Gympie manufacturing centre is highly professional, with brand-new vehicles arriving from North America being thoroughly reworked to accommodate the right-hand-drive conversion. Much of the interior trim and dashboard of the vehicle is removed, together with pedals, steering column and associated switchgear. Wiring looms and connections are modified, and instrumentation is repositioned from left to right, with new panels replacing the original left-hand-oriented trim pieces.

Interestingly, in watching the production team working through the conversion it became obvious that such high attention is paid to clipping and mounting techniques that the finished result is probably superior to that of the original standard produced on the assembly line back in North America.Ford-F-Series_1

The process of engineering new components involves the latest 3D modelling technology. This enables the engineers to check on fitment and suitability before manufacturing these parts for fitment to the vehicles in Australia.

Having owned one of the last F250s sold in this country, I was personally interested in seeing how the conversion compared to what had been the original factory-supplied model.

Having been visiting manufacturing facilities for over 30 years, I was impressed with the standard of care that was obvious in the conversion process and the high level of enthusiasm evident throughout the workforce on the shop floor. What the Australian buyer has now on offer is way ahead of the previous Ford Australia supplied version and reflects the higher sophistication of the current market.

The model line-up for the F250 covers the XL, from $105,000; the XLT, from $115,000; the Lariat, from $127,000 (includes SatNav); the King Ranch, from $134,000 (includes SatNav); and the Platinum, from $134,000 (includes SatNav).

This may at first sight seem highly priced, but when compared to a current Toyota Landcruiser or Nissan Patrol alternative the price differential shrinks rapidly. The buyer of the Performax F250 gets a lot more for their money, with leather trim and a versatile and spacious interior. Thanks to the already established reputation of the company, resale values remain strong.

Delivery drove examples of the XL and the Lariat FX and would recommend heading straight for the Lariat version, which comes with a suspension system that certainly feels better tuned for Australian roads. The XL ride and handling is actually reminiscent of the original V8 F250 imported by Ford, whereas the FX treatment allows the vehicle to feel better positioned on the highway with improved cornering and better road feel.

The usual retort from non-believers in US-style utes is that all are gas-guzzlers. Delivery returned fuel consumption figures of 11.8 l/100 km in normal urban/suburban driving around the Sunshine Coast, which is certainly acceptable. Because the 6.7-litre engine uses AdBlue/DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) in its emissions process with Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR), the emissions are fully Euro V compliant, way ahead of some of the current car requirements.Ford-F-Series_9

The AdBlue/DEF solution is stored in its own 20-litre tank, alongside the 140-litre diesel fuel tank. Other than topping up at around 5,000 km intervals, there’s nothing else for the owner to do, with typical AdBlue use running at around 4.0 percent of diesel use. In case you are wondering, not topping up the AdBlue tank will result in the engine management system downrating the power and performance when it runs out. Only top up with AdBlue/DEF, and don’t think you can fool the system with anything else.

One of the major strengths for the F250 is of course towing, and to check on fuel consumption and ability Delivery hooked up to a 5th wheeler, twin-axled Kuranda, supplied by Queensland distributor Crossroads.

The tare weight of the Kuranda is 2995 kg, and, with a payload potential of an additional 500 kg, the imposed downforce of the trailer over the rear axle of the F250 accounts for 18 percent of the total weight. During our evaluation it towed easily and cleanly, with minimal cut-in on corners. The 6.7-litre diesel took the extra weight of the 5th wheeler in its stride, and when cruising at an average 80-85 km/hour the combination returned a fuel consumption figure of 18.3 l/100 km.

The big news story for buyers is that Performax is a full-volume vehicle manufacturer and supplier that has developed its products to fully ADR compliant standards. Whereas many buyers of Japanese-styled utes have purchased their vehicle with towing in mind, the F250 and other Performax alternatives, such as the Chevy Silverado, Dodge Ram and Toyota Tundra, offer the real solution and not just the second best.

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