Once again, Mr. Fixit gets a call

Chris Theodore's mission
  • Improve quality
  • Share components, platforms
  • Break down organizational walls

  • DETROIT - Ten years ago, Chrysler Corp. needed a Mr. Fixit to rescue its minivans from defective transmissions, customer complaints and bad press. Chrysler called in Chris Theodore.

    Today, Ford Motor Co. also needs a Mr. Fixit to rescue its North American product launches from defective parts, customer complaints and bad press. Ford is calling in Chris Theodore.

    Theodore, 51, who arrived at Ford from Chrysler in 1999, will take over Oct. 1 as vice president of Ford North America product development, a new position. He will be in charge of both Ford brand car and truck product development operations in North America.

    Multiple tasks

    Theodore's job is complex. First he must find a way to launch new Ford vehicles without the recalls and quality glitches that have plagued the company. At the same time, he must take down the wall between cars and trucks, saving money by sharing components and deploying experts across vehicle lines in areas such as braking or electrical systems.

    Like many automakers with large portfolios of brands, Ford is wrestling with two often contradictory needs: It wants to share components across many nameplates to save money while maintaining distinct vehicle identities.

    Last week's announcement follows the March restructuring of Ford's North American product development organization. Those changes, which created five primary product development groups, remain intact.

    Ford develops pickups in its "Tough Trucks'' group and sport-utilities in its "Ford Outfitters'' group. The Ford Mustang, Thunderbird and Windstar reside in the so-called lifestyle cluster. The Ford Taurus and the Crown Victoria are developed in the family cluster, and the Ford Focus is in the youth cluster.

    'Backbone' teams

    As part of the March reorganization, Richard Parry-Jones, Ford group vice president of global product development, instituted technical "backbone'' teams who work across vehicle lines in common systems such as braking, powertrain, vehicle dynamics and electrical.

    The clusters work to maintain brand identity, but those in the backbone teams ensure expertise in critical components and systems is not diluted, Parry-Jones said.

    Despite the recent changes, walls still remain in Ford's product development organization.

    Theodore's new North America unit does not include the Premier Automotive Group: Lincoln, Mercury, Jaguar, Volvo, Land Rover and Aston Martin. For example, Al Kammerer, director of Lincoln Mercury vehicles, heads product development for those two brands and is based in Dearborn, Mich. He does not report to Theodore.

    Theodore has been vice president of Ford North America car product development. Last week Ford also announced the retirement of Gurminder Bedi, 53, vice president Ford North America truck product development.

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