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Betting on SVT Futures: Ford's new hands have big plans for in-house tuner brand

Posted Date: 2/14/05

Maybe all the fretting, all the online chatter, all the enthusiast gnashing of teeth about the future of Ford’s Special Vehicle Team is unwarranted. Maybe we are just seeing a lull in production at that granddaddy of domestic in-house performance tuners.

“I hope so, or else I’m out of a job,” says Ford engineer Hau Thai-Tang, the newly named director of SVT, replacing SVT icon John Coletti who retired at the end of 2004.

Something tells us Thai-Tang, the Vietnamese native who recently completed his self-described dream job—as chief engineer on the 2005 Mustang development team—won’t hurt for work anytime soon. But whether that work focuses on future SVT vehicles, and what form those products might take, remains to be seen.

Rest assured, though, Thai-Tang and his boss, Ford product creation vice president Phil Martens (himself a relative newbie, having just taken control of the product leadership position at Ford after the Dec. 1 retirement of engineering whiz Chris Theodore), are saying the right things.

Martens will admit he was getting upward of 15 letters a day from alarmed SVT faithful after Coletti’s retirement announcement. But his answers to them:

“SVT is actually bigger, staff-wise, than ever before.”
“We see SVT growing to about five products.”
“SVT is, and will remain, a Ford-branded product.”
“The core of every SVT program is its powertrain; second is chassis dynamics.”
“The next-generation Cobra will be the best one ever.”
Martens, who approved the next SVT Cobra a day before we interviewed him in January, pointed to the Mustang as an example of a product engineer*ed from the outset with an SVT version in mind.

SVT products need to be created as part of a model plan, instead of being develop*ed after the main product line has left the drawing board, he says. That way it will prevent embarrassing program delays (see SVT Lightning) or cancellations, and allow Ford to use SVT as a launching pad for new performance technologies, says Martens.

That’s fine when it comes to finances and product planning, but doesn’t a large portion of SVT’s success lie in its indepen*- dence from the mother ship? Or are they starting to learn lessons about integration from upstarts at Chrysler Street and Racing Technology and GM Performance Division?

Martens says SVT will remain a stand-alone operation, at least physically, but the team will now enjoy a direct line of communication to the product development office. “We really need to bring SVT back to its roots, into the mainstream of product development, if we’re going to take SVT to the next level. SVT needs to be an integral part of product development.”

So what can fans expect? Martens says SVT will maintain its core of high-performance V8-powered rear-wheel-drive vehicles. It will expand into inline four-cylinder cars as well. And it will break ground venturing into all-wheel-drive performance models. Turbo- and superchargers also figure prominently. And SVT will draw heavily on lessons learned developing the Ford GT, from its racing experience, and with engineers who bring cross-systems expertise.

Thai-Tang says under his stewardship he aims to make sure SVT core values of performance, exclusivity, substance and value remain intact. “It’s easy to build a strong-performing $100,000 car,” he says. “It’s a lot harder to do a strong-performing $20,000 car. You have to be a lot more creative.”

Martens admits even when you put all the pieces in place, you still must have “the moxie to develop the products—you have to have people with cars at the core of their essence.”

One of those guys, SVT papa Coletti, wishes his successors the best: “We’ve laid down a lot of rubber, and I hope the company will continue to do that.”

Lookin’ Live

When Ford rolls out the SVT Cobra version of its all-new Mustang at the New York auto show in March, take a peek underneath. If our sources are right, your prying eyes will spy a live rear axle—not an independent rear suspension, the setup that would be in keeping with the suspension on the outgoing model, and is therefore anticipated by the SVT Cobra faithful.

Ford execs are officially mum, including product chief Phil Martens, who said as recently as the Detroit auto show that no decision had been made on the Cobra’s suspension. Hau Thai-Tang, chief engineer on the 2005 Mustang and now SVT chief, did hint we can expect the next Cobra to surpass 400 hp (we hear 450 hp) and hit a price of about $40,000. The SVT Cobra goes on sale in 2006 as an ’07 model.

Source: AutoWeek
SVT has big plans...Good for them (and us enthusiasts). They are set to expand their product line to 5 vehicles in the coming years. We know the Cobra is one, the Lightning isn't far off, an SVT version of the new Fusion sedan is supposed to be one of the new addition. And the other 2 products have yet to be known but i would guess a Focus and the new 500 sedan.

The Cobra is supposed to have an output around or north of 450 horses. The Fusion i've heard will get the Mazdaspeed6's turbo 2.3L and AWD system, but will get additional tuning to raise output to 300hp/300lb-ft tq as well as additional SVT tuning in the suspension/brake department. The Lightning will most likely get a 500+hp 5.4L. Those 3 are pretty much cemented into the planned lineup.

The other 2 vehicles we really don't know of. But i'll throw in my 2 cents worth of speculation. I've heard that Ford might give the 500 sedan the SVT treatment...with power coming from a 320hp N/A 4.4L v8 and round out the package with the regular SVT goodies in the suspension/brakes/wheel/appearance department with power being routed to all 4 wheels via an AWD system. The other product i suspect will be a Focus. SVT had said they didn't want to do an SVT focus, and that a turbocharged version which should debut in the coming years wouldn't be badged as an SVT, but that might change. They did that since they felt the focus wasn't the greatest image booster and kind of intereferd with their plan to move upscale. If they are worried about image...they should leave the regular 215-225hp FWD turbo focus as a regular non-SVT offering, and use AWD and the fusions 300hp turbo 2.3L to put out a Rally version of the Focus to go head to head with the EVO and STi. Image problem solved. I would like to see that.

Anways...SVT will expand in terms of staff and product offering.

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I hope they do expand the SVT line beyond the Cobra and Lightning. A 320hp AWD Ford 500 would be great. A 450hp Cobra for $40k would be a way better deal than the new Z06. :clap Looks like the restructuring at Ford has paid off very well.
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