Ford Motor Co. engineers have developed the world's first platform with both front- and rear-wheel-drive applications.
The platform was produced for the new Ford Transit light commercial vehicle. Now Ford is studying how its principles can be used in passenger-car applications.
Ford is believed to be examining the possibilities of developing a single platform to serve a front-wheel-drive Ford Mondeo replacement as well as future rear-wheel-drive Jaguar and Volvo models.
'There is tremendous interest internally in what we have accomplished,' said Dave Grandinett, chief program engineer on the new Transit, known as Project 184. Grandinett works at Ford's Truck Vehicle Center in Dearborn, Mich.
The company has often theorized about a combined front- and rear-wheel-drive platform in the past, he said. 'With the Transit, we have actually done it.' He said two patents have been registered in Europe, and a third is pending.
Ford was aware of the potential of the 'double-ended' platform at an early stage. The company is believed to have invested as much as $2 billion in the new Transit's development - far more than is usual for this type of vehicle. That includes $700 million for retooling at the plants in Genk, Belgium, and Southampton, England.
'Ford took the project very seriously and never allowed financial constraints to compromise it,' Grandinett said.
So how did the new generation of the Transit workhorse gain ground-breaking design status?
'At a very early stage, we ran into what seemed to be an impossible dilemma,' Grandinett said. 'The medium commercial vehicle segments were dividing into front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive. We looked at the two layouts separately, and neither accommodated all our requirements.
'This is where the engineering team came in. We were determined to find a new way of looking at the problem. We had to do it with good, solid engineering - no gimmicks and no trick transmissions. So I sent the team away and said, `Look at the commonalities.' '
That was back in 1996, when the engineering team consisted of a work force of 200, in Dearborn and at Ford's engineering center in Dunton, England.
MIXED BAG IS BETTER
'We found cultural differences in the way each group approached the issues,' Grandinett said. 'The different views of the two teams became a positive element. The Transit we see today would not have happened with an all-U.S. or all-European team.'
Grandinett said the key to the engineering solution lay in the position of the steering gear and front-end suspension in relation to the powertrain. The Transit's engine can be mounted either longitudinally or transversely.
From that point, Grandinett said the Transit program 'exploded and everyone became energized.'
Once the Transit's powertrain and chassis had been developed, engineers moved on to the body to establish slip points for the major fixtures.
'We then took it to the systems teams,' Grandinett said. 'They picked up on identical points and used the same locations, the same pins and the same rails for their feed lines - whether they were gasoline or diesel.'
At the peak of the Transit program, Ford had 500 engineers working on the project.
'The new Transit is a product of the information technology era,' Grandinett said. 'We originally thought that, because of the time differences between the USA and England, we only had sufficient overlap for a five- or six-hour working day.
'With IT we turned that into a 14-hour day. A problem identified in Europe could be resolved in the U.S.A., and the result passed back to England in time for the next morning.'