Ford Australia Blocks Performax Fleet Deal With Ford US Photo:

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Tim O'Brien | Sep, 11 2014 | 16 Comments

Performax International in Gympie, Queensland, builds a very good product. Its Ford F-250 Super Duty ‘big rig’ is fastidiously and invisibly re-engineered for right-hand-drive.

That process involves the design and remanufacture of hundreds of parts - from the dashboard and trims, to steering boxes, to the development of wiring harnesses for the electronics.

It is a rock-solid conversion, free of squeaks and rattles, and finished to ‘factory quality’ everywhere you care to look.

We drove it on-road and off: immensely strong, a US-truck through-and-through, the Performax Ford F-250 looks and drives exactly as you’d expect a new car to look and drive. (See our review here.)

It’s fully supported by Performax International and sold with a full vehicle warranty and roadside assistance.

Performax is a key employer in Gympie. It has operated there for more than twenty-five years and employs 80 people in its factory and showroom; a workforce that will rise to 90 over the next 12 months according to Performax MD Glenn Soper.

This year, Performax will convert and sell upwards of 180 new F-250s, with forecast plans to sell in excess of 500 F-series vehicles annually.

Among its forward-order customers are emergency services and regional airports, along with mining companies and a host of private, farm and trade buyers looking for a rig that can “tow something big, safely”.

With a range that begins at $105,000, the Performax Ford F-250 Super Duty is, at the moment, the most expensive Ford you can buy in this country.

A price, Mr Soper says, that could be reduced if not for the position taken by Ford Australia.

F-trucks have been sold here since the early 60s; for people with a job to do, there can hardly be a more respected brand. Or a more aspirational work truck.

And you would have to think that there would not be a regional Ford dealer anywhere that would not want a spanking new F-250 Super Duty on the showroom floor.

Curious then that Ford Australia wants nothing to do with Performax.

More than that, it has actively intervened to block a purchasing deal the Gympie company had negotiated with Ford US.

Glenn Soper, Managing Director of Performax International said, “We managed to get a fleet number to buy at wholesale rates out of Ford North America for “Fleet and Emerging Markets’, only to have it quashed by Ford Australia."

“Now we have to buy through a broker network at full retail price in the States and bring them in from there. Which hurts the business plan."

“We’ve made approaches to Ford Australia to discuss the matter, but these have fallen on deaf ears."

“I have actually had emails from Ford legal telling me to cease and desist with requests for meetings. I am now lobbying via Warren Truss, the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, and also with AIG and FCAI to get an audience with Mr Graziano,” Mr Soper said.

TMR has seen the correspondence and can confirm that Performax International was granted a fleet number by Ford North America (to access vehicles from the US dealer network at preferential fleet rates), that was then overruled by Ford Australia.

“Upon further discussions with Ford of Australia, Ford Emerging Market Services will not be able to support your request for F-Series destined for the Australian market,” the correspondence overturning the approval reads.


Ford: “no relationships” with conversion companies

Given that Ford Australia has no comparable vehicle in its range with anything like the same tow-rating capability, internal dimensions and load capacity of the F250, we asked Ford Australia to clarify its position on the supply of F-trucks to Performax at wholesale rates.

Its position is a simple one: “At the base of it, we just don’t have relationships with conversion companies,” Ford Australia spokesman Wes Sherwood told TMR.

Given Ford’s investment in the brand here, this a defensible stance. After all, its primary interest is in the protection of its product and of its dealers and customers who have high expectations of any vehicle carrying ‘the blue oval’.

But, even in recent history, this position is not entirely accurate.

Tickford converted Mustangs to right-hand-drive under a joint venture agreement with Ford Australia from 2000.

(The Tickford Group was later acquired by motorsport company Prodrive in 2001, rebranding here as FPV, Ford Performance Vehicles.)

And Performax is not just any ‘conversion company’. It is Australia’s largest importer, converter and retailer of American cars and pick-ups.

It is also ISO 9001 certified, approved by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development as a 'Licencee, Design, Test and Manufacture Facility' for imported vehicles, and offers a full warranty - including roadside assistance - on its vehicles.

“We’re happy to supply vehicles to Ford Australia to test to confirm the integrity of what we do,” Glenn Soper said.

“But we also want to talk, (for Ford) to understand our business plan, to understand our whole process of servicing customers and how we go about providing the aftersales support."

“And we’re happy to supply vehicles through their dealer network,” he said.

But that has also been met with silence from Ford Australia.

“Our focus is on the vehicles we develop for the Australian market,” Mr Sherwood said.

Above: Performax boss Glenn Soper and the Ford F-250.
Above: Performax boss Glenn Soper and the Ford F-250.

Is it possible then, that there may be more behind this response; that Ford Australia itself has plans for bringing the F-250 to Australia?

We asked, but, “we don’t comment on future model plans,” Mr Sherwood told TMR.

Certainly, the Australian market is transforming into a ‘ute market’ (after all, HiLux has more than once topped VFACTS monthly sales figures).

There is also a gap at the top in Ford Australia showrooms that the Ranger simply cannot fill. (Worthy though it is; the best of the utes, in fact, in our estimations.)

Does Ford have plans for the F-Truck as a full-import brand? We can only guess, but, in the meantime, buyers in the growing niche market for the large powerful F-truck have no relationship with Ford of Australia.


A poor look for a ‘good citizen’?

Ford has built cars in Australia for nearly nine decades. It has contributed greatly to the Australian community and economy over all of those years.

It has also, in announcing the shut-down of manufacturing here, retained its global design studio and engineering operations in Campbellfield, and put a very fair plan in place to soften the impact of its closure on its employees, to retrain and to assist them into other employment.

It has been a very good citizen here for a very long time.

But there is a sentiment uncovered in its actions in stiff-arming Performax that may sit a little uncomfortably with the Australian community.

Especially so given the taxpayer funded industry assistance packages provided to Ford Australia (and Holden and Toyota) over the past decade, and the continued taxpayer contribution in assisting the closedown of their operations here.

With the political and social sensitivity of the current discussion about manufacturing in this country, it is not a good look that a regional company providing a quality niche product in a market which is not served by Ford Australia, finds a door closed in its face.

As for Glenn Soper and Performax International: “We will sell 180 F-trucks this year, 75 Tundra, around 50 Dodge Rams and the rest Chevvies. I am just hoping that common sense will prevail. All we ask is for an audience with Ford Australia,” he said.

Tim O'Brien
TMR Managing Editor

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