On May 17, Ford Motor Co. summoned powertrain component suppliers to discuss the automaker’s quality woes.
After a three-hour session devoted largely to the vendors’ shortcomings, one participant asked for a show of hands: How many suppliers in the room also sold parts to Toyota and General Motors? Nearly everyone raised a hand.
“It sent a very loud message,” said one supplier who attended the meeting.
Do Toyota’s vendors suffer a sudden quality collapse when they ship parts to Ford? If Ford’s suppliers are delivering faulty components, it is partly because of Ford’s own purchasing practices.
This year, Ford Motor significantly toughened its requirements for suppliers to retain their Q1 quality rating. The automaker has put 393 supplier factories on its watch list, and 79 of those must improve or risk the loss of future contracts.
Some suppliers say they can live with Ford’s new rules. But a number of suppliers say Ford’s last-minute design changes have caused much of the automaker’s quality problems. Suppliers don’t have enough time to test these parts or discover how the changes affect other components.
“Ford leaves everything until the last minute — then they change everything,” said the supplier who attended the meeting. “Does Toyota change things? Yes. But they are fine-tuning their designs. They make tiny changes.”
When it comes to late design changes, Ford is one of the worst offenders, according to a survey by Planning Perspectives Inc., a management consulting firm in Birmingham, Mich.
According to the survey, Ford generated the highest volume of late engineering changes among six major North American automakers.
The survey suggests that Ford places more emphasis on cost-cutting — as opposed to quality — than GM, Toyota, Honda and Nissan. Only DaimlerChrysler focuses more heavily on cost. Vendors also say they receive conflicting demands from Ford’s various departments.
“The suppliers obviously must accept some blame for quality, but it’s not unquestionably just their fault,” said Planning Perspectives President John Henke. “In fact, a good portion of the blame should fall on Ford’s shoulders.”
Henke based his initial conclusions on questionnaires completed by more than 150 suppliers. A more complete survey of about 225 suppliers will be published in June, Henke said.
Ford officials would not comment specifically for this article. But in response to the Planning Perspectives survey, they did acknowledge that despite some progress with suppliers on quality and cost objectives, much work remains.