Ford technology will be shared with group; its platforms won’t

FRANKFURT — Ford Motor Co. will share technology, but not platforms, among its portfolio of companies, says Martin Leach, Ford of Europe’s product development chief.

The strategy appears to reduce the role of Mazda Motor Corp., owned 33.4 percent by Ford, within the Ford group. It thereby could reduce some of the opportunities for synergies between Mazda and Ford of Europe, both of which have been racking up huge losses in recent years.

Mazda had been designated the “center of excellence” for inline, four-cylinder engines and C/D-sized cars within the Ford group. The Ford Contour is a C-sized car; the Taurus is a D-sized car. While the engine programs continue on track, Leach’s remarks, in an interview at the Frankfurt auto show, would seem to undermine the significance of Mazda’s role in engineering new models for other Ford group companies.

At the same show, Richard Parry-Jones, Ford’s group vice president of product development, said Ford brands will do their own engineering because that is considered central to brand identity. The Ford Escape, for example, was engineered by Mazda, which sells its version in the United States as the Tribute. That won’t happen anymore, Parry-Jones said.

In the same way, Mazda’s new 626 platform, due to be unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in October, thus will not become the platform Ford of Europe will use in that segment. Technologies from it will be used by Ford of Europe — but not the platform itself.

Leach’s views were echoed by Wolfgang Reitzle, group vice president in charge of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, in an interview with Automotive News Europe in London. He said a platform might be shared if, by accident, an existing platform happens to suit the needs of a product on the drawing board. But Reitzle said sharing electronic architecture across platforms can yield far more savings than sharing the sheet metal underpinnings — without compromising brand character.

At Mazda, Leach was hailed as a key builder of closer ties between Europe and Mazda. After being Mazda’s product-development czar, the British-born Leach became vice president of product development at Ford of Europe in January 2000.

Mazda officials had hoped that Leach would be an advocate for using Mazda’s platforms and expertise,

-- Automotive News Europe Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin in London contributed to this report

You can reach James B. Treece at jtreece@crain.com

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