The technology that will help Ford (and others) avoid Holden’s fate – Car News

Holden’s demise can be attributed to several factors, but high among them is Australia’s status as a right-hand drive market. As General Motors itself acknowledged when the marque was shut down, the “highly fragmented right-hand drive markets” made it increasingly difficult to justify building cars with the steering wheel on the right.

But technology is coming to save the day for right-hand drive cars, and it could eventually see more makes and models find their way into our market.

The advent of electric vehicles was viewed by many as a potential catalyst for change, as it was often the internal combustion engine and its ancillaries that made it difficult to swap the steering column from side to side. Smaller electric motors have been seen as removing one of those barriers, but according to Ford’s electric vehicle program director, Darren Palmer, that’s not the case.

“Not particularly, not yet,” he said. “You have to do the dashboard the other way around, [plus] the brakes and the accelerator pedal system and the steering system. And sometimes you have a specific collision requirement for that market… But you put the pieces together the other way around.

“When you design the car, you have to make sure it can work both ways. Otherwise I have to swap a lot of parts. The fact that there’s right-hand drive means you can’t make the most of that space and you have to move stuff around, so it’s not particularly easy.”

Fortunately, Mr. Palmer – and the entire auto industry – has a solution.

“One day with drive-by-wire and brake-by-wire, those things [will] become easier,” he explained.

So-called “fly-by-wire” technology removes the mechanical connection between, for example, the brake pedal and the braking hardware, and instead uses a digital signal to activate the brakes. It is already widely used in the aviation industry to reduce weight and has already been introduced in selected vehicles.

For example, the Chevrolet Corvette C8 uses brake-by-wire, while the Infiniti Q50 and Q60 were the first production cars to use steer-by-wire. While the technology is not yet widespread in the automotive space, it could prove to be a game-changing moment for right-hand drive markets like Australia.

With electric vehicles, it is easier to switch the steering column from one side to the other. With electric vehicles, it is easier to switch the steering column from one side to the other.

However, with mixed reviews for the Infiniti models and their handling, some development work needs to be done before this technology is ready for wider application across the automotive industry.

Removing the mechanical links between the steering wheel, accelerator pedal and brakes will make right-hand drive vehicles easier to use, Mr Palmer explained. It will also drastically reduce the amount of design work required and could eventually lead to more models being made available to our market in a timely manner.

It’s a particularly relevant topic for Ford Australia, as the brand was so confident in the potential of the F-150 pickup in our market that they convinced management in Detroit to have it locally converted from left- to right-hand drive.

As Dianne Craig, President of the Ford International Market Group, said CarsGuide in Detroit recently, the success of the F-150 project could lead to more locally converted right-hand drive models – and not just for the Australian market.

The F-150 project could lead to more locally converted right-hand drive models. The F-150 project could lead to more locally converted right-hand drive models.

“That’s what this opportunity and working with it is all about [conversion partner] RMA [Group] can really give us an opportunity, not just in Australia but in other right hand drive markets as well,” said Ms Craig. “It’s all about scale, with Ranger and Everest we get scale. But yeah we will see, we think converting the F-150 to right hand drive is a great example of what we can do.”

Ford isn’t alone either, with Walkinshaw Automotive Group growing bigger than its Holden Special Vehicles days as it now converts Chevrolet and Ram pickups for local buyers and will soon be helping Toyota bring its Tundra to RHD too rebuild.

But a relatively low-volume right-hand-drive conversion will likely be a short-term solution for Ford, with fly-by-wire technology being the key breakthrough for more mainstream models to eventually find their way onto local roads.

In theory, this could eventually mean that automakers could offer any model with fly-by-wire technology in both left- and right-hand drive without the significant challenges it faces today – which ultimately cost Holden dearly.


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