GENEVA - Last-minute engineering changes have caused poor quality and botched launches at Ford Motor Co., Chairman Bill Ford says.
"We have to settle product development down. It's a question of discipline," he said in a meeting with journalists here.
Late engineering changes can affect quality by creating manufacturing and supplier problems.
"If you don't get the up-front engineering and resist making late changes, you don't give manufacturing a chance," Ford said. "One bad launch has a knock-on effect on other launches. Resources are pulled off other programs and that affects them."
He offered no specific examples of North American launches harmed by late changes. But the Ford Focus and Escape were plagued with recalls in 2000 and 2001, and the launch of the 2002 Explorer was delayed.
Ford of Europe has banned late engineering changes, the chairman said. The result: a string of vehicle launches relatively free of snarls.
Ford of Europe allows last-minute fine-tuning only if it would prevent a safety or quality mishap, said David Thursfield, president of the unit.
"Late changes usually have involved a cost issue or a late definition of product, where we haven't defined the vehicle size or figured out functional and material usage for the vehicle," Thursfield said. "But things like that should have been figured out months before."
Martin Leach, Ford of Europe vice president of product development, said there was some late arguing over the interior trim and finishing in the new Fiesta, to be introduced in May. Those changes will be built in later.
But when testing of pre-production Fiestas revealed early degradation of suspension bushings, a late redesign was allowed.
In North America, Ford is using a two-pronged approach to improving product development, said Chris Theodore, vice president of North American product development.
In the short term, he said, Ford is applying more rigor to existing practices. Longer term product development methods are being overhauled and will rely more heavily on manufacturing, engineering and suppliers working together. c
Staff Reporter Mary Connelly in Detroit contributed to this report