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USA:Plastics pony up for Ford; innovations cut Mustang's cost, not character

Plastics pony up for Ford; innovations cut Mustang's cost, not character

By ROBERT GRACE | Plastics News

Changes in the way Ford Motor Co. designs its vehicle interiors have helped save the automaker millions of dollars. But the effort has not compromised the individuality of cars such as the redesigned 2005 Mustang, Ford design manager Terence Duncan says.

The new model captures the essence of the iconic pony car that launched 40 years ago, Duncan says. That achievement wasn't easy, he says. "This is harder than anything else I've ever done," Duncan says.

Interior elements must accommodate such things as safety restrictions, airbag regulations and ergonomic considerations.

But those requirements also create opportunities to use innovative

materials and processes, Duncan says.

Ford is "seeking high-end materials that aren't wood and maybe not even leather, and yet are environmentally responsible," he says.

"I take my hat off to (General Motors). They've done a wonderful job using plastics."

He also praises DuPont Engineering Polymers and GE Plastics for their efforts to deliver resins that address new performance demands.

The 2005 Mustang, which is scheduled to go on sale Sept. 29, is less of a plastics showcase than some other Ford models. But "plastics played a huge role" in some applications, Duncan says.

Plastics to the rescue

Plastics helped Ford meet head-impact requirements, he says, in such components as the "amazingly complex" A-pillar, the post between the windshield and the side windows.

Duncan says he spearheaded a new component strategy when he joined Ford from United Technologies Automotive about five years ago. At that time, Ford treated each vehicle - from the Taurus to the Mustang to the F-150 - as its own business group.

For example, each group designed its own style of radio.

"We had 34 radio families, which created an astronomical cost disadvantage," Duncan says.

Under its new strategy, Ford standardized some components, such as radios, switches and mirrors, across its fleet. It allowed other parts to remain vehicle-specific.

By adapting just one design family for radios, the company saved $100 million over the life of the product, Duncan says.

But designers also are responsible for the desirability of the product, he says. "Sometimes cost has won out," he says, "resulting in affordable yet undesirable models." That's not the case with the redesigned Mustang, he says.

Attention to detail

"There's a harmony of detail on the '05 Mustang that I've not seen in any Ford vehicle," Duncan says. "I've not seen it anywhere except in BMW or VW."

Such factors can evoke passion in consumers, especially avid fans of classic cars such as 1960s-era Mustangs.

The design team, which used a lot of brushed aluminum in the new model's interior - in the steering wheel, on the doors and extensively in the instrument panel. That's expensive, Duncan concedes, but it evokes a high-end, retro spirit.

Duncan says his team members also wanted to make the shifter knob from milled aluminum, until they found that each knob would cost $180. That discovery, he says, prompted them to conclude: "We can mold it."

Duncan suggests the 2005 Mustang is likely to be the last model to include a three-spoke steering wheel since pending airbag regulations will make such a design impossible.

Entertainment systems are becoming so important to automotive interiors that "we've almost become a consumer electronics group," Duncan says. Ford recently took much of its seat development back in-house. "We had been toying with outsourcing it," Duncan says, but that process yielded seats that lacked harmony with the rest of the interior.

"I'm very proud of what we're doing now," he says. "It would have been hard to say that five or six years ago."

Ford projects sales of approximately 200,000 to 220,000 Mustangs annually.

Robert Grace writes for Plastics News, a sister publication to AutoWeek.

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.....
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