DETROIT -- As Ford Motor Co. prepares to bring out 16 vehicles in North America this year, a handful of the company's most senior executives have changed the formula in an effort to assure trouble-free launches.
Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas, said the top bosses are getting together earlier and more often in an attempt to root out problems that might otherwise languish without high-level intervention.
The group includes himself, COO and next CEO Mark Fields, manufacturing boss John Fleming, purchasing chief Hau Thai-Tang, product development head Raj Nair and quality boss Bennie Fowler.
"We've been working hard earlier in the process, getting the leadership together because ultimately they're leadership decisions," said Hinrichs.
Taking action early in the process is a key goal, Hinrichs said: "If you wait too long to make a decision about where you really are in a program, it all ends up falling on the actual launch itself in the plant."
Ford calls this year's launch schedule the most ambitious in its history. Key vehicles include the 2015 aluminum F-150 pickup, the Lincoln MKC crossover, the Mustang and the Transit commercial van.
Ford's most conspicuous botched launch was the 2013 Lincoln MKZ. Parts shortages and quality glitches overwhelmed quality processes at the plant in Hermosillo, Mexico. Delivery of the car -- Lincoln's contender in the highly competitive entry-luxury sedan market -- was delayed at least three months.
Ford said last week it is recalling nearly 700,000 Escapes and C-Max Hybrids for safety issues involving an airbag software glitch and improperly latching door handles; no deaths or injuries have been linked to the recall.
Ford's senior leadership team, as it strives to identify and fix problems early, needs to take responsibility for managing launch timetables and creating a culture where people aren't criticized for identifying problems, he said.
"It's hard to move a Job 1 date for a lot of reasons," Hinrichs said. "Everything is focused on that Job 1 date -- the manufacturing plan, the supply base plan, the marketing plan."
The biggest test of this process will be the launch of the 2015 aluminum F-150 pickup, due in dealerships by year end. One big hurdle will be getting Ford's aluminum suppliers -- primarily Alcoa and Novellis -- geared up to handle F-150 volumes, Hinrichs said.