US:New Fords slow to reach dealers; quality flaws turn up on sedans, wagons
New Fords slow to reach dealers; quality flaws turn up on sedans, wagons
AMY WILSON | Automotive News
It will be nearly Thanksgiving before the new Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego sedans and Ford Freestyle sport wagon roll into dealerships at full volume numbers.
Ford's Chicago assembly plant was scheduled to hit full production last week, says Roman Krygier, Ford Motor Co. group vice president of global manufacturing.
Given Ford's batch-and-hold quality check, a mainstay of recent launches, it will take a few more weeks before those cars fill the pipeline.
Krygier says Ford is on schedule with the launch curve. There have been no problems other than typical launch blips, he says. He wouldn't cite examples.
But reports have surfaced of quality flaws that slowed early production. Some Web sites, including Ford watchdog BlueOvalNews.com, have listed alleged problems such as defective continuously variable transmissions, flawed paint finishes and cracked engine brackets.
The vehicles began shipping Sept. 10, about two weeks later than planned. Ford executives say new vehicles won't ship unless they are free of problems.
Through October, Ford estimates it sold 1,300 Freestyles and 2,700 Five Hundreds, better than initial internal forecasts.
Of those sales, 97 percent were to retail customers with no cash incentive, Ford says.
New supplier park
The Chicago models are supplied in part by a dozen vendors operating from a new supplier park one-half mile away.
"We've got new vehicles, a newly retooled plant and parts coming out of a new supplier park," says analyst Erich Merkle of IRN Inc., an auto consulting company in Grand Rapids, Mich. "It was too much to take on at one time."
In hindsight, Krygier says, Ford could have done more preparation with the suppliers.
"The more you can focus in these
areas upstream just minimizes any production risk as you get into Job 1," Krygier says. "As we started to produce in the supply base, there are always concerns that surface, and we could have resolved those concerns much earlier."
Despite that realization, Krygier says there were no unusual problems with the Chicago launch, even in the supplier park.
Production started in July. The plant turned out 20,422 vehicles through September. That's well off the pace of the 101,131 vehicles originally projected for this year by forecasting service CSM Worldwide Inc. of Farmington Hills, Mich. CSM recently revised its projection to 78,000 vehicles.
Full line speed is 70 cars an hour, says Ray Nicosia, vehicle engineering manager for the Chicago products.
Nicosia says the launch is meeting expectations, with even the most minor glitch tackled.
"There is no onesie in this program," he says. "No matter what we see, we're going to treat it as a high-volume problem."
Workers unfamiliar with a launch may think some problems are more severe than they really are, Nicosia says. Chicago is leading a launch for the first time in decades. With the previous Chicago product, the Taurus, Ford's Atlanta assembly plant had taken the lead and had passed on to Chicago the things it had learned.
Ford needs a smooth launch for its sport wagons and its first new mid-sized family cars since the 1980s.
Some dealers didn't get any new models until last week, well into the fall selling season.
"It's huge for us," says Greg Webb, president of Packey Webb Ford in Wheaton, Ill., which received five of the six new cars on its lot last week. "We've needed a product like this that is brand-new."
Bob Tita of Crain's Chicago Business contributed to this report.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....