After climbing to the upper ranks in vehicle quality in the past two years, Ford Motor Company said it has set an aggressive new target -- best-in-class initial quality for compact cars the company will launch in North America in 2010.
"We aim to launch our new compact vehicles at 800 things gone wrong per 1,000 vehicles," said Bennie Fowler, Ford's group vice president, Global Quality. "That's more than 500 TGWs less than the predicted industry average -- and we believe these levels will ensure our upcoming small cars will achieve industry-best initial quality."
As part of its product-led transformation, Ford has announced plans to convert three light truck plants to small vehicle production, paving the way to sell several European-designed small vehicles in North America.
Ford said today its Ford Focus compact car built off a global C-car platform will debut in North America in 2010 with best-in-class quality. In addition, Ford expects other small vehicles derived from Ford's global C-car to achieve similar initial quality levels.
Speaking Monday at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Fowler said the company will meet this aggressive quality target in the midst of its "One Ford" transformation that includes globalized product development and manufacturing operations.
"We're following a set of standardized processes around the world in product development, manufacturing and purchasing with a discipline this company has never seen," Fowler said. "We are leveraging these same disciplined, standardized processes to ensure world-class quality around the world."
In 2007, best-in-class initial quality in the small car segment was 1,058 things gone wrong, while the industry average was 1,512.
Ford's continuing quality push comes as the company shifts towards a more balanced portfolio of small cars and crossovers that will be sold alongside the company's lineup of trucks and SUVs.
Last year, passenger cars represented 49 percent of sales industry-wide. Trucks and large SUVs accounted for 32 percent. Crossovers were 19 percent. The product mix at Ford was nearly the opposite, with trucks and SUVs accounting for 52 percent while cars were at 30 percent. Crossovers were 18 percent.
Within the next five years, Ford's product mix will change dramatically. Trucks and SUVs is expected to account for 38 percent of the company's mix, cars will grow to about 38 percent. Crossovers will climb to 24 percent.
"By 2012, we'll be building 1 million cars around the world on our new B-car platform, and 2 million vehicles our global C-car platform," Fowler said. "Those vehicles will launch with the best quality ever."
Ford's commitment to the world-class quality extends beyond initial quality measured in the first 90 days of ownership. Customer-driven product features, such as fuel economy, craftsmanship, and quiet interiors are designed into the vehicle and checked for maximum quality and durability.
Using Ford's industry-leading virtual tools, up to 40,000 design standards are checked in the Virtual Engineer Lab. Virtual technology is also used to confirm that the product can be manufactured in the assembly plant for which it is slated - and without stress or injury to the operator.
"As a result of our virtual technology, we've cut time-to-market by eight to fourteen months, depending on the vehicle program," Fowler said. "We've reduced costly late engineering changes. We're building fewer - but better - physical prototypes. And we have the lowest work-related injury rate in our company's history."
Processes such as Early Claims Binning in manufacturing streamline communications about potential quality issues between plants and dealerships. Warranty claims are fed to the assembly plant every day where the issue is dissected and either traced back to the installation process or fed back to the design engineer.
Fowler also said the company has trained an "army of problem solvers among product designers, manufacturing engineers and hourly work force. Around the world, we have 60,000 Six Sigma green belts, over 7,000 black belts and 400 master black belts."
Additionally, Wayne State University of Detroit will offer a course this fall for UAW-represented Ford employees to become certified Six Sigma black belts.
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