TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Ford Motor Co. expects its experiment in developing two separate brands on two continents to pay off with sales of more than 250,000 annually.
Shamel Rushwin, Ford vice president for manufacturing, said Aug. 7 at the University of Michigan Management Seminars that the Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute program married two different organizations and still achieved cost savings and produced the vehicles in 28 months. He said the 250,000 sales figure was a conservative estimate.
He declined to detail the savings or even say whether Ford was considering another cooperative effort. Sharing the program responsibilities between Japan and the U.S. was a plus, he said.
The program went on around the clock because Asian engineering teams could hand off their projects to engineers that were headquartered in Dearborn, Mich., 'who could work while their Hiroshima colleagues slept, and vice-versa.'
The marriage of two organizations produced difficulties. Ford, he said, views the entire vehicle as one system. But Mazda program teams have divided into component- or systems-based groups.
He said Ford's Kansas City Assembly plant, which produces the Escape and Tribute for North America and other markets, uses less automation than Mazda's Hofu, Japan, plant. He said Kansas City was less adaptable to technically sophisticated manufacturing practices.
While top Mazda people are fluent in English, engineers and designers on both sides of the Pacific are not. Rushwin said meetings were subject to the same protocol as diplomatic summits, with simultaneous translation.
'If you think your meetings drag on, imagine everything having to be said twice, and sometimes repeated for clarification,' Rushwin said. A translator was required for the two computer-aided design systems.
Still, Ford created unique vehicles coming down the same lines. Only the roof panels, windshields and front door glass are shared. All other exterior surfaces are unique to their marque, he said.
Moreover, Rushwin said, assembling in both Japan and the United States gives Ford and Mazda more protection from market fluctuations. And both are protected against currency fluctuations, he said.