DETROIT -- By appointing a top engineer as head of purchasing last week, Ford Motor Co. aims to break down barriers between two departments that often clash at automakers -- purchasing and engineering.
Hau Thai-Tang, 46, vice president of engineering and a rising star at Ford, was named group vice president of global purchasing, replacing Tony Brown, 57, who is retiring.
Thai-Tang has swiftly worked his way up the engineering ladder at Ford. He was the chief engineer of the 2005 Ford Mustang and has held several other key positions.
Most recently, he was vice president of engineering for global product development. He has had several key international assignments, working on such vehicles as the subcompact EcoSport SUV for Brazil, India and other markets.
Thai-Tang is an avid motor racing enthusiast. In 1993, he was a race engineer for drivers Nigel Mansell and Mario Andretti on Ford's Newman-Haas IndyCar team.
He will report to COO Mark Fields effective Aug. 1.
Before Alan Mulally arrived as CEO in 2006, Ford had a reputation for fierce battles between engineering and purchasing. The two camps are natural rivals; engineers lobby for high-value parts while purchasers strive to save money.
Suppliers can get caught in the crossfire as they try to satisfy the often competing demands of automakers' engineers and purchasing executives.
At Ford, Brown took several steps to ease potential conflicts between purchasing and engineering.
Under Ford's Aligned Business Framework, suppliers are allowed to participate early in new model development, enabling the suppliers to budget carefully and efficiently match their technology to parts sought by the automaker.
Teams of senior Ford executives also visit key suppliers to view technology and discuss product plans.
When Thai-Tang takes over as Ford's purchasing chief, he will retain two key executives -- Birgit Behrendt and Burt Jordan -- who rose to prominence under Brown.
Behrendt, 53, ensures that Ford's product engineers coordinate with the company's purchasing team and makes sure that suppliers participate early in product development.
As vice president of global programs and purchasing operations, she will retain purchasing responsibility for global vehicle programs and add oversight of global commodities. Before her promotion, she was responsible for global vehicle programs but for commodities in the Americas only.
Jordan, 46, is responsible for Ford's annual $70 billion global purchase of parts and commodities. He also oversees Ford's supplier diversity program.
As vice president of global vehicle and powertrain purchasing and supplier diversity, he will retain those duties. Ford's attempt to bind its engineering and purchasing functions more tightly together is part of an industry trend.
In 2010, General Motors paired senior purchasing and engineering executives by giving them similar portfolios. In theory, this allowed the executives to speed decision making.
At Chrysler Group, in 2009 CEO Sergio Marchionne named Dan Knott, a Chrysler engineering executive, as head of purchasing. When Knott died in 2012, he was replaced by another engineer, Scott Kunselman.