The Falcon and Territory might be on death row, but that doesn't mean it's game over at Ford Australia. Work is still underway on dozens of projects at Ford's local engineering base, including the headlining SUV that will eventually cap the T6 program.
The award-winning Ford Ranger - and its Mazda BT50 twin - was the first product of the T6 work and now the SUV is being fast-tracked for production in 2014. It is believed to be a seven-seater that's bigger than the Territory, packing the punch to go up against the best in class, both in Australia and around the Asia-Pacific region.
Its Australian roots could even mean it wears Endeavour badges in showrooms, although it's also known as Everest. This development car is caught this week by Jackson Emiris, a smartphone-wielding Carsguide reader driving along the Princess Highway near Avalon, just outside Melbourne.
"It seemed to be a Ford Territory cross Ford Ranger," says Emiris. "On the back of the car it read 'Left Hand Drive' and 'Engineering Evaluation Vehicle'." The car clearly has Ranger roots, carrying the pickup's front end back to the rear of the front seats. But, from there back it has been mated with a Territory tail to provide the extra back-end space that will bring SUV buyers to the car.
These images all but confirm that the model will ride on a shorter wheelbase than the ute, unlike previous Thai-built Ranger spinoff wagons. A similar approach has been used by General Motors with its Colorado 7, with the shorter wheelbase improving manoevrability and off-road clearance over the longer ute variants.
Ford has also carefully obscured this prototype's rear suspension, disguising a likely move to a coil-sprung live setup -- also like the Colorado 7.
Carsguide can confirm it's one of a run of prototypes that are being tested and developed in Victoria, both at Ford Australia's proving ground at You Yangs and on public roads. They have been up and running for a number of months, pointing to a public reveal sometime in the second half of 2014.
"Ford has always said the Ranger pickup would be the first of the vehicles to come off the T6 platform," confirms Neil McDonald of Ford Australia. "The Ranger pickup is the first 'top hat' of that platform. However, at this stage we cannot provide any further specifics as to timing or features."
The Endeavour, if it is called that, will join the 22 ute models already spun from the Ranger platform, including the latest XLS.
The success of the T6 project is reflected in class leading comfort, refinement and safety, as well as waiting lists for some models including the Ranger Wildtrak that is backed up several months as customers wait for deliveries from the Ford factory in Thailand that produces Australia's new Ford baby.
This reporter is on Twitter: @paulwardgover