Fusion snagged by C&A problems
Launch of Ford's new midsize car disrupted by delay of parts from bankrupt supplier.
By Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News
Problems with bankrupt automotive parts supplier Collins & Aikman Corp. are complicating the launch of the Ford Fusion -- the new midsize sedan that Ford Motor Co. is counting on to stem U.S. market share losses and reinvigorate its passenger car business.
Since Ford began production of the Fusion on Aug. 10 at its assembly complex in Hermosillo, Mexico, the automaker has been forced to halt production on a few occasions due to delays in parts shipments and other problems.
"There's been some supply issues associated with (Collins & Aikman)," Ford spokesman Paul Wood said Wednesday. "There have been some minor part supply disruptions."
The Fusion is arguably the most important new passenger car Ford has launched since the Taurus in 1985. It has garnered excellent reviews and Ford says more than 100,000 potential customers already have requested information about the vehicle through its Web site and other means.
Ford dealers are clamoring to get more Fusions in their showrooms.
"We haven't had a midsize car to speak of for 20 years," Ford brand communications manager Jim Cain said. "There's tremendous pent-up demand for a car like this in (our) customer base."
So far, Ford has built 20,000 Fusions, which is just short of its target for this point in the launch. One reason for the shortfall has been the issues with C&A.
The Troy-based parts maker -- which sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May -- supplies interior components for the Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr, which are built on the same vehicle platform in Hermosillo.
"As might be expected with a launch of this magnitude, we have experienced a number of glitches," said David Youngman, vice president of communications for Collins & Aikman. "However, we are fully committed to supporting our customer as we work through our issues."
Tony Brown, Ford's senior vice president of global purchasing, said he has dispatched extra engineers, technical liaisons and logistics specialists to Hermosillo to help iron out problems.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you it's going to be a slam dunk," Brown said. "It's not going to be as easy as we'd like it to be."
Brown said C&A's bankruptcy has compounded the normal problems that arise during initial production of an all-new vehicle.
"It's a launch," he said. "We always have some teething things. With the situation at C&A, the teething things are certainly exacerbated."
C&A provides instrument panels, door panels and trunk systems for the Fusion. It also manages other suppliers for Ford and has built a plant in Hermosillo. The multibillion-dollar contract C&A struck with Ford in 2003 to supply parts for the Fusion is the largest in the supplier's history.
In addition to the issues with Collins & Aikman, there have been other production snags.
"There've been some other hiccups at Hermosillo," Wood said. "There have been some other temporary glitches where we may have lost a couple of units that were not caused by Collins & Aikman."
Brown said all of the problems will be overcome and stressed that the Fusions that have been shipped to dealers have met stringent quality standards.
"Between us, we will be able to work ourselves through this and meet the customer demand," Brown said. "(C&A) understands the importance that this program has, both to them and to us, and they're going to get it right."
Ford is counting on production of the Fusion to hit full speed in the coming weeks.
Teaser ads are slated to begin next week, with a full-scale advertising campaign due to launch at the end of the month.
Ford estimates it has lost thousands of customers in recent years because it didn't offer an entry-level midsize sedan.