NEW YORK - The quality snarls plaguing the launch of the sibling Mazda Tribute and Ford Escape sport-utilities are close to being resolved, Mazda's top product executive said here last week.
Lessons learned at last summer's production start at Ford's Kansas City, Mo., plant were applied to Mazda's Hofu, Japan, plant startup in November, with good results. And Hofu already has started teaching some lessons to its Midwestern colleagues, said Phil Martens, Mazda Motor Corp. managing director for product strategy, design and product development.
Mazda drew the double-edged sword of getting a higher-than-normal ratio of Tributes in the early production run at Kansas City. Although this meant satisfying early demand from consumers, the teething problems in the startup meant Mazda also took a hit to its reputation for quality.
All Mazdas and Fords to be sold in America will continue to be built at Kansas City, while Hofu will handle the Japanese domestic market. But Martens said that U.S. demand for Tributes has Mazda studying what it would cost to have Hofu build both left- and right-hand-drive vehicles.
Martens said that the quality assurance levels for supplier parts and modules have been stiffer for the Hofu plant than for Kansas City. About half of parts overlap between the Kansas City and Hofu plants.
The only snarl at Hofu was the contamination of some brake booster seals, while Kansas City has had numerous snafus. Already, American-built Tributes and Escapes have been recalled for failing windshield wiper linkages, leaking fuel lines, sticking cruise control throttles, incorrect wheel hubs and steering wheels that can come off in a driver's hands.
'There are a lot of bits and parts that are the same between Hofu and Kansas City, but the systems for checking the parts are different,' Martens said. 'Mazda has a different audit system, as well as an inspection group. There is better fit and finish at Hofu. This has put pressure on Kansas City to improve.'
Mazda Motor President Mark Fields said that lessons learned here will be applied to the merging of the next-generation Ford Focus and Mazda Protege.
'The teams have to be clear on the product assumptions and attributes. In some cases there is common sourcing, but there also needs to be assembly process commonality,' Fields said.
'It's easy to say we'll have joint platforms and architectures, but it's a really meticulous process that gets down to suspension tuning, steering ratios and the feel of the seat bolstering,' Fields said. 'That allows the vehicle's personality to fit the brand.'