Ford reins in F-150 order combinations

Ford cut ordering complexity of the 2009 F-150 by more than 90 percent.
DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. has come a long way from "You can have any color as long as it's black."

The 2009 Ford F-150 pickup can be ordered in nearly 10 million combinations of trim series, colors, engines, body styles and options. It seems a staggering number — but it represents substantial progress.

The 2008 F-150 could be ordered in billions of combinations. That's not a typo: Billions.

With the input of dealers, Ford said it reduced the ordering complexity of the 2009 F-150 by more than 90 percent. Company executives declined to disclose exact numbers, but it approaches an estimated 99 percent reduction in possible combinations.

The F-150 is part of a bigger effort to reduce complexity at Ford Motor Co. The automaker says it is slashing the number of build combinations by 90 percent across the 2009 Ford-brand lineup.

Pickup buyers want lots of variations. But with sales of about 400,000 F-150s annually, Ford determined it could meet those demands and still dramatically slash possible combinations.

"If you could build thousands times more than what you're selling, you were building custom units each time they went down the line," said Mike Crowley, Ford truck and SUV group marketing manager.

So Ford marshaled a dealer task force to help and went to work. The improvement was made by standardizing equipment, creating new packages of popular equipment and eliminating unpopular items, Crowley said.

Complexity conundrum
To simplify engineering, manufacturing and ordering, Ford is drastically reducing the number of available combinations for its vehicles. The number of build combinations for 2009 Ford-brand vehicles will drop by 90%.

- The Ford F-150 goes from billions of combinations for the 2008 model to fewer than 10 million for the 2009.
- The Ford Expedition goes from 250,000 combinations for the 2008 model to fewer than 10,000 for the 2009.
- The 2009 Lincoln MKS debuts with about 300 combinations.
- The 2010 Ford Focus will have 150 combinations, a drop of 95% from the 2008 model.
- Most car lines will now have fewer than 1,000 combinations.

Still lots of choices

Planners strived to maintain a wide variety of choice on features important to customers. No body styles or wheelbases were eliminated. With the addition of the luxurious Platinum trim series, the number of high-level combinations — before such things as colors and options are figured in — increased.

The benefits of reduced complexity are many. For Ford, it reduces engineering investment, streamlines manufacturing and purchasing, and improves quality. Vehicles in dealership stock are likely to sell faster, which will cut incentive and floorplanning costs for the company and dealers.

It benefits customers, too, Ford and dealers say. Buyers will find it easier to configure their vehicles and are more likely to find what they want on a dealership lot.

One such buyer accelerated the efforts at Ford. He happens to be the company's CEO. Alan Mulally experienced the complexity of a Ford order guide firsthand when he bought an E-series van for his mother's senior center in Lawrence, Kan.

"He was the one who drove us to go further and faster than we would have on our own," Crowley said.

The company's cars are being simplified even more than the F-150.

For instance, the 2009 Lincoln MKS is available in about 300 combinations. By the 2010 model year, the Ford Focus will be available in about 150 combinations — a 95 percent reduction compared with 2008, Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said last week.

Eliminating 'mistakes'

For the 2009 F-150, planners used computer software to figure out popular combinations. Those are marked as fast-turning configurations in dealer order guides.

The changes will dramatically reduce dealers' chances of ending up with "mistakes" — oddball vehicles — on their lots, dealers said.

"Dealers would sit with items on the lot for six to 12 months if you ordered it the wrong way," said Rich Savino, dealer principal of Able Ford in Rockville Centre, N.Y., and a member of the dealer task force advising Ford on the issue. "Floorplan expense was high. When you sold it, you didn't really have a happy customer because it wasn't configured like their next-door neighbor's truck."

Dealers told Automotive News they now expect F-150 stock to turn much faster.

To cut the number of F-150 combinations down, Ford, for example, made air conditioning standard and eliminated a manual transmission option, Crowley said. Rear-seat DVD systems were eliminated because the take rate was low and dealers can install headrest DVD systems if customers wants them.

A new package of convenience features was created from eight frequently ordered stand-alone options such as keyless entry keypads and power-adjustable pedals. By grouping those features together, Ford was able to eliminate the number of wiring harnesses used in the truck, Crowley said. Because of expected higher take rates for those features, Ford can discount the package and give customers more for their money.

Although 2009 F-150s won't start to arrive at dealerships until late October, the new order guides already are helping, dealers said.

"It will take some of the confusion out from the dealership standpoint as well as the customer standpoint," said Craig Kinsel, dealer principal at Kinsel Ford-Lincoln-Mercury in Beaumont, Texas. "It makes the whole thing cleaner." 

You can reach Amy Wilson at awilson@crain.com

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