The landmark deal between Ford and Volkswagen to partner on their next-generation pick-ups began at the highest levels of both companies – with a family catch-up.
The deal to make the new-generation Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok pick-ups ‘twins under the skin’ began as a conversation between the families at the top of the two global automotive giants.
Drive has been told the partnership between Ford and Volkswagen – on the Ranger ute, Transit and Caddy vans, and selected electric vehicle technology – was the result of a ‘catch-up’ between the heads of the families that ran Ford and Volkswagen globally six years ago.
While the names of those in the room were not disclosed, Drive understands William Clay Ford Junior – the great grandson of company founder Henry Ford – was approached by Ferdinand Piech, a grandson of Ferdinand Porsche and chairman of the Volkswagen Group supervisory board from 2002 to 2015.
Mr Piech died in 2019, but by then the vehicle sharing deal had been done; industry insiders say Mr Piech was influential in the Volkswagen business to the end.
The initial meeting between the two families – to discuss a model-sharing arrangement on utes, vans and electric cars – happened some time in 2015 or 2016, Drive has been told.
It was about “six to 12 months” after Ford had already started working on the Ranger and had locked in key changes – such as chassis, engines and safety technology – for its new-generation model.
“I was told the two families had a conversation and during that time (Volkswagen) reached out to us for a global pick-up,” Ian Foston, the chief engineer for the new Ford Ranger, told Drive at a media preview this week.
“They had a conversation as Volkswagen at that time decided they wanted to investigate the possibility of a relationship between the two companies, especially around
commercial vehicles,” said Mr Foston.
“At the time they didn’t necessarily want to do the next Amarok on their own (for reasons of cost and the focus on electrification across the automotive industry), and they said to us that we were the only company they would considering partnering with.
“Once the deal was agreed, their head of vehicle programs contacted me and my boss at the time, and that’s when the relationship started.”
Mr Foston said the Ford Ranger had been “locked in” about six months to a year before the approach from Volkswagen.
But, as it happened, the changes suited Volkswagen down to the ground.
“They (Volkswagen) were very respectful about what we’d done on new Ranger. They really appreciated the performance of the vehicles, and they very much wanted that relationship with us where they knew that what we were going to deliver on our next generation was going to be similar to what they also wanted. So it was a win-win for both parties.”
Mr Foston said the program and the partnership has run smoothly over the past five years or so during development.
“It was very collaborative and very cohesive,” said Mr Foston. “Once we’d signed all the non-disclosure agreements, and we showed them what we were doing, they were honestly delighted.
“They said, ‘if we were going to develop a new product, we would have done the same thing’. So it was a hugely compatible partnership.”
As Drive has previously reported, although the new Volkswagen Amarok will be based on the new Ford Ranger and built on the same production line in South Africa, the two vehicles will look and feel different.
“Because Volkswagen was also very keen to make the Amarok fully differentiated (from the Ranger) there was never any tension between us,” said Mr Foston. “The new Amarok was never going to be a rebadged version of a Ranger. There is so much more that goes into vehicles like this.”
After describing the new-generation Volkswagen Amarok as a “fully-differentiated sibling vehicle” last year, during a media preview this week Mr Foston went into more detail about just how unique the two vehicles will be.
“When you drive the new Amarok it very much feels like a Volkswagen,” Mr Foston told Drive.
“I’m the chief engineer for that program as well, they (Volkswagen) give us the responsibility for the engineering and the manufacturing though they are very much in charge of their own design and what they want in terms of the DNA of the vehicle.
“To make sure the Amarok is true to their DNA, their vehicle has a different character (to the Ford Ranger), they were very clear about that.
“Volkswagen wanted their own DNA so when you get in and drive the vehicle it will very much feel like a Volkswagen.
“That suited us because we had the same view. We wanted to protect how the Ford Ranger felt for us and for our customers, so the two vehicles will feel different to drive – and everything the customer touches and sees will be unique between the two vehicles.”
Mr Foston said Volkswagen was particular about its suspension and steering feel and the treatment of the interior appointments.
“The new Amarok has its own suspension feel, its own on-road steering feel, they wanted the seats to feel a certain way inside. There are lot of
things we’ve done to tune the vehicles differently.”
In another example, Mr Foston said: “The steering column is the same but the steering wheel, the interior design, the cabin trim materials are unique to Volkswagen.”