Padilla will use plant tours in quality sales pitch to dealers

DETROIT - Jim Padilla is opening all Ford Motor Co. assembly plants to dealers in a bid to convince them vehicle quality will improve.

Dealers bear the brunt of poor vehicle quality in their service bays. In the past two years, warranty repairs performed at Ford Division dealerships increased 50 percent, according to a dealer memo written this fall. Ford dealers also have had to shoulder multiple recalls of high-volume models such as the Escape and Focus.

Padilla, group vice president for Ford North America, wants company retailers to know what is being done to boost vehicle quality.

"He has ask- ed all North American assembly plants to bring in local dealers,'' said Ed Lewis, Ford spokesman. "We are going through all the steps we are taking. One of Jim Padilla's points is to demonstrate that the quality initiatives are standardized throughout all of our plants.''

Improving vehicle quality is a top concern of the Ford Division National Dealer Council.

Dealers have asked Padilla to develop and use a simple, comprehensible formula that allows retailers to regularly monitor quality improvements, said Ralph Seekins, chairman of the national dealer council and owner of Seekins Ford-Lincoln-Mercury in Fairbanks, Alaska.

"Ford can bury us in data. But we want to see something that will help dealers really believe in an increase in quality," Seekins said. "Reducing things gone wrong is the goal. How are they coming along with that goal? Where are we in each product line?"

By 2004, Padilla wants to build 50 percent of all vehicles with zero things gone wrong, Lewis said.

Dealers also are pressing Ford to establish and maintain a product schedule that delivers fresh vehicles into showrooms on time.

Said Seekins: "We don't want to see the product cycle lengthened. If they are planning a new Ranger in 2004, we want to see it in 2004, not 2005. Ford Division has a little dry spell. We all want new product as quickly as we can. We don't want to see it delayed.''

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