Ford Motor Shifts Gears?
It appears that Ford has finally started to get it, well, at least one
part of the puzzle. And this part of the puzzle says that business as
usual, doesn't cut it in today's hyper-competitive market. The market
wants continual improvement, not the old plan of design a vehicle and
then wait for it to die on the vine before you make changes or offer a
Any way... very interesting article. Take a read.
Our friends in the automotive press, all-knowing as they are, have
seized on the various official and semi-official announcements by Ford
executives concerning the proposed schedule of refinements to the Five
Hundred as proof that Ford is 'unhappy' with the way the public (here
read: "press") has received the new Five Hundred. Apparently, the Five
Hundred is too conservatively styled, and must be restyled as quickly
Very sound reasoning, given that Ford has a long-standing history of
investing very little in its car platforms between major overhauls.
One might even be tempted to believe that Ford was scrambling to
correct deficiencies with the Five Hundred, if Ford's prior strategy of
minimal ongoing platform investment had been a success.
But has it?
The numbers suggest otherwise. Over the last decade, Ford has
consistently lost passenger car market share in a large part due to the
fact that they did not invest in their product on an ongoing basis.
Apparently that message has been received loud and clear.
So, taking a page from Honda and Toyota, who make major and minor
changes to their passenger cars on a regular schedule (one that you can
set your watch to, in fact), Ford designed the Five Hundred planning to
refresh the design and make other improvements in about two to three
years. Yet another round of changes and upgrades are planned for about
two years after that, and more changes are planned for about two years
after that (as revealed by Phil Martens in an AutoWeek article). As far
back as October of 2002, Chris Theodore (now retired) outlined a
strategy of platform investment that involved increased component
carryover and shorter turnaround times for both new product and
improvements to existing product.
The Five Hundred is the first vehicle that has officially been placed
on this new ongoing investment strategy, however there are rumors
circulating that have the Ford F150 receiving a significant upgrade for
the 2008 model year, an unheard of midcycle upgrade for a full size
pickup. This ongoing investment strategy is an effort to emulate
Toyota's "Kaizen" or "continuous improvement" philosophy.
This "continous improvement" philosophy does mean that Ford will, over
the life of a platform, make less profit per unit sold, as they will
have to invest more in the platform. However, less profit per unit sold
is fine, if the number of units sold remains fairly consistent, instead
of falling off dramatically toward the end of the platform's life.
Ford's new strategy is not glamorous, but it will change the domestic
car industry. With the Fusion and the Five Hundred on staggered design
update cycles, there will always be mainstream product in the Ford
showroom with a fresh face. With a two-three year window to supension,
steering, and powertrain refinement, customer complaints and faults
with the current Fusion or Five Hundred will be addressed quickly.
Substantial component carryover due to more frequent and smaller
platform changes means that design defects should drop off over time.
This strategy should provide exactly what Ford is looking for in the
North American market: steady sales, steady market share, and fully
utilized plant capacity.
<snipped some boring stuff>
Wisely, Ford has avoided pandering to the press. Instead recognizing
that the car buying public appreciates results more than anything else,
they have decided to build thoroughly competent vehicles that will
remain current throughout their life-cycles. Truly a revolutionary move
by a domestic car company.