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Building Blocks
Ford learns a lesson from Lego


GENEVA - Richard Parry-Jones likes to compare the building blocks of Ford Motor Co. vehicles to the pieces in a set of Lego Technic, the version of Lego building toys used to make mechanical models.

By making vehicle building blocks interchangeable, like Lego pieces, Ford and its brands are able to create a variety of models using many similar components.

"It gives us extreme flexibility," said Parry-Jones, Ford group vice president for global product development. "Look at it as a set of Lego Technics. If you give an identical set of Legos to five kids, they will each end up with five different technical creations."

At the Geneva auto show, Ford and sister brand Volvo unveiled vehicles that illustrate how the concept has evolved. The Ford Galaxy minivan and S-Max crossover share 80 to 85 percent of the same components.

The Volvo S80 sedan has much in common with the two Fords. But the three vehicles look quite different and are aimed at different customers. The Galaxy and S-Max are geared to the mainstream market, while the Volvo is aimed at premium customers.

Underneath the skin

Parry-Jones said that roughly half of vehicles' total parts could be shared among the brands, while the other 50 percent could be tuned by the brands. Individual systems, though, could share a higher percentage of parts.

He says, for example, that the steering columns on the Galaxy, S-Max and S80 share 80 percent of their parts; the other 20 percent are tuned by engineers at Ford and Volvo.

Other parts, such as front axles and subframes, also are shared by the three vehicles but are tuned individually by the brands.

"Without these flexible technology principles, we could not have done two such different vehicles," Parry-Jones said, referring to the Galaxy and S-Max.

Don't say 'platform'

In adopting the Lego-style philosophy, Ford has moved away from rigid platforms to shared technologies and increased its flexibility.

The S-Max, Galaxy and S80 have different, distinctive body styles.

"The S-Max is a functional and sporty five-seat crossover vehicle, which can carry two extra passengers if needed," said Stephen Odell, Ford of Europe vice president of marketing, sales and service. "But the Galaxy is a full-fledged seven-seat MPV."

For further differentiation, the S-Max also comes with the five-cylinder, 220-hp gasoline engine that also powers the Ford Focus ST.

Volvo developed an inline six-cylinder engine for the S80 that also will be used in future Volvos and shared among brands. The engine is made at Ford's Bridgend engine plant in South Wales.

"That engine will be used by other sister companies," says Hans Folkesson, Volvo Car Corp.'s senior vice president of r&d.

Crossing segments

Ford's shared technology principle is not restricted to applications in one segment of the market. Ford also can use engines, transmissions and electrical architectures across vehicles in different segments.

The outgoing Ford Galaxy minivan was a joint-venture model developed and built at Volkswagen's Autoeuropa plant in Setubal, Portugal, with the Volkswagen Sharan and Seat Alhambra. The three had identical body styles.
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