By on October 3, 2009

Sharonville Transmission Plant (courtesy coalcampusa.com)

So exactly how did Ford achieve quality equal to Toyota? Or are their TV ads misleading, as the ads from decades ago which proclaimed “At Ford Quality Is Job One”? This was the question in my mind as I returned to the Sharonville Transmission Plant after exactly 30 years. A long term friend, who did not jump ship in 1979 as I had done, when it looked like Ford was going to self destruct, got me past the guard post for a tour of the plant. Jerry had seen what he called “a compete transformation of Ford Motor Company” during his 37 years. He said I would not recognize the place.

The physical appearance of the plant was a shocker. In 1979, dull florescent bulbs, covered with oily grime, dangled from a ceiling coated with years of build up of machine generated filth. You could see, but not very well. Now the plant is lighted by clean, high density lighting with reflective covers, spaced close enough to make the inside of the plant as bright as the outside on a sunny day.

There are no clouds of blue-gray machine mist, laced with millions of minute particles of suspended metal. The air is clean and odor free. Every machine is vented to protect the lungs of Ford workers. I smiled to myself as I recalled a short story from Hemmingway from my college days. It was called “A Clean Well Lighted Place.”

But there was something missing. My shoes were not making a sucking sound with each step. That was because the wood block floors, saturated with rotting, stinking oil, are gone. They have been replaced with non slip concrete coated with a reflective epoxy finish, which adds to the brightness of the plant.

There was something else missing: Red Jackets and Coveralls. In 1979 Sharonville was a sea of Red Jackets and ill fitting, wrinkled Coveralls, which defined the side of the fence you were on – management or labor. The Red Jackets had “Ford” emblazoned on one breast pocket and “Supervisor” on the other. In the 70s I wore a Red Jacket.

As a Red Jacket my job was to “get my numbers” and make quota, no matter what. It was my job to bully, intimidate and “write up” men who failed to make quota. Ford would not accept any excuse for failing to “get my numbers” other than the Coveralls were not doing their jobs. Their theory of management, a holdover from the days of Henry Ford, was that workers were lazy and would not produce unless they were afraid of being fired.

The ill-fitting, wrinkled coveralls, issued by Ford, were worn by UAW workers. They came to work each day filled with stress and pent up rage, anticipating the hostile work environment created by management. If pushed too hard by the Red Jackets, the Coveralls would fight back in a thousand, mostly undetectable ways, which severely impacted productivity and quality. If a Red Jacket tried to work with his people he would be viewed as a defector from the management camp, and his days at Ford would be numbered.

But the battlefield conditions at Ford have disappeared. The work environment is relaxed, with no outward sign of tension between management and labor. In fact, management and the UAW are now partners on 76 work teams, with 76 “Team Leaders” which are UAW members. The old Red Jackets have been replaced with “Manufacturing Advisors” whose function is to make sure their teams have everything they need to do their jobs. You cannot distinguish management from labor, and there is neither a necktie nor a wrinkled, ill fitting pair of coveralls to be seen.

Jerry introduced me to the Bargaining Chairman of the UAW. He explained that the old days are gone, and that the competitive global economy necessitates close cooperation between management and labor. There are certainly differences, but they are settled at the bargaining table rather than in plant wide wars.

I shook my head in disbelief. Thirty years ago I concluded that Ford was headed for bankruptcy. I asked Jerry what accounted for this phenomenal change. He gave me a one word answer: Fear.

Everyone saw the handwriting on the wall. At one time Ford had three plants in Cincinnati, GM had two, and a few miles up I-75 Chrysler had a plant. Sharonville now has fewer than one third as many employees as it had in 1979, and all the other auto plants are vacant buildings, with thousands unemployed. Toyota, Honda, and other foreign auto companies now virtually dominate our auto market. Everyone knew that it was change or die.

So how did they do it? They got rid of the hardcore, old school managers and UAW people through retirements and buyouts. A younger, better educated, more reasonable group of people moved to positions of responsibility in the union and at Ford. A woman is now President of UAW Local 863. That would have been unheard of in 1979.

But I wanted to know about quality. It was poor quality that nearly destroyed Ford Motor Company in the 80s when it was hit with the largest recall in automotive history because of defective transmissions. Jerry said “I am glad you asked about quality” as he led me into the midst of the modern, high tech machines that replaced the noisy, smoky old clunkers from the 70s.

A UAW team leader explained why transmissions from Sharonville today are second to none. It was not his explanation that impressed me. It was his sense of pride, commitment, and ownership. I watched his work team, and it was unrecognizable from my experience in the 70s. If the parts did not meet quality specifications, someone would hit the “stop” button, and the line would not start up again until the problem was solved. In the 70s if a worker hit the “stop” button and it was not break or lunch, he would be written up.

Work Teams have a “no fault forward” philosophy where parts are checked continuously so they cannot cause problems for other operations further down the production line. Fifty TV cameras constantly monitor quality. There is a “Transmission Birth History” which details every phase of manufacture on each individual transmission. It is a 50 page document. Work Team members rotate jobs, so that every team member is trained on every operation. Maintenance is integrated into each work team.

This is so different from the 70s that it would have to be called revolutionary. UAW jobs were narrowly defined. A man did his job, and his job only. If his job was down for any reason he sat and waited for it to be back up. It was common for men to sleep in bathroom stalls when their jobs were not running. To assign them other work could ignite a war that could last for a week.

Maintenance in the 70s revolved around “Maintenance Outposts.” There was an outpost in each zone. Every department in the zone was dependent on the outpost for electricians, pipe fitters, etc. If an outpost had two electricians, but three departments were down needing electrical repair, one department would stay down until repairs were completed in the other down department, and the crew would read magazines, sleep in the men’s room, or play cards.

If a down department needed a pipe fitter, and he found that there was also an electrical problem, he had to go back to the outpost to request the next available electrician, even if he could fix it. He was a pipe fitter, and pipe fitters do not fix electrical problems. It was a terribly inefficient system.

When I thanked Jerry for the tour he mentioned that very few of the people who now work at the Sharonville Transmission Plant have any idea how bad it was in the 70s, and therefore do not realize how good they have it today. This is a new generation of auto workers who have cut the shackles of the past, and they are producing quality that is second to none.

[Robert Dewar is a former Ford Motor Company general foreman and author of A Savage Factory: An Eyewitness Account of the Auto Industry’s Self-Destruction. He currently lives in Cincinnati, OH and runs a successful packaging business with his wife and family. For more information, visit www.asavagefactory.com.]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

59 Comments on “Ford 1979 vs. Ford 2009: What’s Changed?...”


  • avatar
    1981.911.SC

    I really hope it is that good. It is the only way Ford will still be here in the future.

  • avatar
    dkulmacz

    I was in high school in 1979 so I can’t comment directly on these observations. However, I must give a big +10 to his comment on the continued positive changes in the workforce.

    Most comments on this site seem to posit that the buyouts and packages of recent years would drain the company of all its talent, leaving nothing but the dregs who couldn’t hack it anywhere else. My experience has been 180 degrees the opposite. The people who have stayed are those who are passionate about saving Ford, and have the chops to do it.

    Let the haters hate. The change is real.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Still too early to know about long term quality, reliability and durability. The domestic automakers continue to source the least costly sub assemblies. A chain is as strong as the weakest link.

  • avatar
    unleashed

    UAW must go.
    The new product must sell at profit.

    Only then Ford will have a chance to make it, maybe.

  • avatar
    MasterOfTheJawan

    Thanks for posting this and thanks for writing A Savage Factory. I read the first chapter on Google Books, that blew me away and explains first hand eyewitness account everything that was wrong with the big 3′s manufacturing process and labor relations during that period. Everyone who reads this blog should check it out.

    I also recommend the read, Working For the Japanese on google books, which is about Mazda’s plant at Flat Rock.

  • avatar
    unleashed

    Still too early to know about long term quality, reliability and durability.

    Frankly, I don’t think it’s even relevant anymore.
    The US economy is slipping into a depression.
    The auto market will continue to contract.
    Ford remains a high cost producer.
    I don’t see how they’ll last through 2010 without filing a GM-style bankruptcy.

  • avatar
    MasterOfTheJawan

    So do the workers still go by number instead of name?

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    This is very encouraging to read. It would be very interesting to hear from insiders if this sort of atmosphere/system is industry wide in 2009 or if Ford is unique among the US companies. I suspect that it is the latter, but I am just guessing based on Ford’s recent quality gains. Anyone?

  • avatar
    acurota

    I was born in 1978 and have never worked anywhere near the auto industry. Hearing the nuts and bolts of an operation like this is absolutely fascinating. I hope we can read more like this from Mr. Dewar.

  • avatar
    mcs

    So exactly how did Ford achieve quality equal to Toyota?

    I bought into Ford’s quality claims a couple of times within the last ten years and ended up with pieces of crap both times with lots of trips to the dealer and their arrogance. Both vehicles would have probably scored well on one of those nearly useless initial quality reports. I’m done with them for now.

    By the way, GM built Oklahoma City with the same bright lighting and clean concrete floors etc. While it was much nicer than places like Tarrytown NY, the clean environment didn’t help the X Cars that were built there.

  • avatar
    dodobreeder

    Great article. Especially since I’m a Ford man. I’ve owned Ford all of my life. And I have had to wrench and tool on every Ford I ever owned. I recently switched to Sienna and Tundra because I thought they were the better products in class.

    Will I buy Ford again? You bet! But it has to be the best product in class.

    Not everyone feels that way. Many former Ford owners have said that they will never buy another Ford because they do not want to reward Ford for the bad experiences they had in the past.

    All the improvements in the world do not make up for the damage done in the past.

  • avatar
    texmln

    workers were lazy and would not produce unless they were afraid of being fired

    So what you’re saying is that this was and IS a completely true statement. Two thirds of the jobs have disappeared in the last 30 years and – shocking – the people in the one third that remain have figured out they need to shut up and produce or hit the soup line. Ford management had it right all along. Fire enough people any the rest will wake up and get the message.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I don’t know how current GM plants are run, but back in the early 1990s one of the real differences at Saturn was the cooperative agreement with the UAW at the factory in TN. Jobs were rotated, it was often mentioned with awe that workers could (and did) pull a cord to stop the line if they saw a quality lapse, and it wasn’t even unheard of to have non-represented workers from other parts of the company (including me on a few occasions) come on to the line to help when extra hands were needed. Believe it or not, there was even a time when they couldn’t get the cars out fast enough to keep the dealers stocked.

    On one occasion, groups of dealers (retailers in Saturn speak) and general managers came to Spring Hill and were invited to work on the line along side the UAW to see the operations up close and personal. I recall the dealers coming away with a great experience and seeing veteran line workers proud to show off their work. I really couldn’t imagine having this happen at another GM plant at the time.

    Of course, we all know what’s become of Saturn… the cooperative agreement with the UAW has been long-gone and, I suspect, much more due to hard feelings between the rest of the UAW and the Saturn local than with management. But I don’t really know all of the politics behind that failure, just one among the many reasons Saturn is history.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I don’t know how current GM plants are run, but back in the early 1990s one of the real differences at Saturn was the cooperative agreement with the UAW at the factory in TN. Jobs were rotated, it was often mentioned with awe that workers could (and did) pull a cord to stop the line if they saw a quality lapse, and it wasn’t even unheard of to have non-represented workers from other parts of the company (including me on a few occasions) come on to the line to help when extra hands were needed. Believe it or not, there was even a time when they couldn’t get the cars out fast enough to keep the dealers stocked.

    On one occasion, groups of dealers (retailers in Saturn speak) and general managers came to Spring Hill and were invited to work on the line along side the UAW to see the operations up close and personal. I recall the dealers coming away with a great experience and seeing veteran line workers proud to show off their work. I really couldn’t imagine having this happen at another GM plant at the time.

    Of course, we all know what’s become of Saturn… the cooperative agreement with the UAW has been long-gone and, I suspect, much more due to hard feelings between the rest of the UAW and the Saturn local than with management. But I don’t really know all of the politics behind that failure, just one among the many reasons Saturn is history.

  • avatar
    lahru

    What separates Ford Motor Company from all the rest is “family”.

    I believe that the reason Ford took no government bailout money is the strong belief the Ford family has has that they can weather our present economic situation themselves and call it pride, good business or whatever.

    They believe that standing tall and taking what life gives you will in the end provide them with success.

    Look, all of these companies saw this downturn in the economy coming and they were all in different economic positions when it occurred.

    Ford, always the underdog with a family happy to reap the profits and I think that Mullaley’s arrival was just coincidence yet once he arrived and the financial planners at Ford gave him their take on what was coming, he manned up and with the backing of the Ford family borrowed all the money they could. Rightly so when heritage and family’s distrust of strangers involvement in their business is at stake.

    General Motors, saw the same economic data as Ford and they, being a company owned by stockholders worldwide and no human connection such as heritage or having no descendants of the original owners alive chose to decide that we’ll just go to Washington, knock on the doors of congress and come home with enough cash to weather the storm.

    Chrysler, being the third little piggy of the group and viewing the same economic data as the others and being just acquired by Mercedes had some foreign players who when they saw the same data as the other two and although cars were selling and trucks were selling they started to plan their exit. Cut budgets, add sizzle but no steak and hope for the best. Ah! Cerebus, they swallowed the bait that Mercedes trolled down Wall Street with and never were committed to Chrysler after realizing their mistake in buying the company. Cerebus hearted the same congressional cash as GM and the rest is history.

    My point is that Ford’s advantage in this whole thing was motivation.

    They did not want the U.S. Government involved in their business, and rightly so.

    General Motors and Chrysler(Cerebus) did not care.

  • avatar
    dhathewa

    Wonderful article! Thanks!

    I’m going to see if I can get a copy of that book.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “UAW must go.”

    Bull. Toyota’s Japanese workers are unionized. Hyundai’s Korean workers are unionized. VW’s German workers are unionized as are Porsche’s.

    Highly cost effective companies around the world are able to turn out very competitive products and utilized unionized workers.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    “Bull. Toyota’s Japanese workers are unionized. Hyundai’s Korean workers are unionized. VW’s German workers are unionized as are Porsche’s.”

    Yes, and let the layoffs keep on coming and Toyota’s US workforce will be too. My mother worked for Toyota for many years and this image of a bunch of happy go lucky workers concerned only for what is good for the company is a crock. Layoffs, more temporary workers, and the possible passing of Card Check could mean Toyota plants become Union Shops…And in turn we start buying Mexican built Camarys.

  • avatar
    grobby22

    Having visited the new F150 plant in Detroit a few years ago I echo the sentiments of the writer. Ford is close to being a turn around success story. What is the difference between Ford, Gm and Chysler right now, one word, leadership.

  • avatar
    sellfone

    Great article and intriguing sounding book, but I am not buying it. The quality turnaround at Ford that is. Yes its better than it was in 1979 but its still not Toyota-like.

    My personal experience? I used to own a 2004 Ford Expedition that I bought new. When it was about a year and a half old, the transmission needed to be replaced (obviously under warranty). There was only 27,000 miles on it when the failure occurred.

    I wonder if this transmission was made at this Sharonville plant. The one I had was certainly not “Second to None” in quality.

    Because of this experience and the inconvenience it caused (I was on vacation in it during the failure 400 miles from home), I’ll never buy another Ford again.

  • avatar
    ruckover

    Texmin–”Ford management had it right all along. Fire enough people any the rest will wake up and get the message.”

    Did you even read the article? Did you notice who the author blamed for much of the behavior of the workers? If you were one of my students, I’d have to ask you how you missed one of the main points of the author.

  • avatar
    ohsnapback

    I have looked at Ford offerings in the last year, and I really think the quality angle they’re playing is overplayed.

    I found the dash of the Edge to be seriously dated, with cheap plastics and lame lime green nighttime illumination.

    The Focus had a mushy suspension, numb steering, and some seriously hard and unseemly plastics all over.

    As for the Fusion, it’s competitive for the segment, barely. I think the 4 banger version is seriously coarse compared to the competition, but the suspension and steering are better than the Camry, but not up to the Accord’s benchmark. I will say that they rectified the quite dated dash and cut of materials in the newest edition.

    I really think Ford is doing an incredibly masterful job of spinning their successes and progress into something much, much larger than objective reality allows.

    I haven’t driven the new Taurus or F-Series, so I can’t fairly comment on those offerings.

  • avatar
    european

    this article is just nonsense. im sorry but thats what it is. the comparison is off. OF COURSE things have changed in 30 years.

    you should compare toyota’s and ford’s plants from TODAY, not what-was-way-back-then and what-is-now, ok?

    this is just a (for ford lovers) feel-good article. nothing more.

    ps. im more in favor of ford than gm or chrysler.
    just stating the truth above. sorry.

  • avatar
    joseseispaq

    I hope for the sake of Ford that most of the management-labor relations are more than lip service. As a former GM worker, I can say we had the same “mantra” of the happpy worker is key but it was nothing more than surface compliance on the part of management. It was always my way or the highway. Management was adamant that it give up any control and continually and systematically obstructed any semblance of working together to be competitive. As a former committeeman, I witnessed management, every day, blatantly and with malice, disregard local work rules, contractual overtime rights, time off procedures and a myriad of their own dictates that were supposed to be adhered to in our MOA (modern operating agreement). Employees literally HATED to go to work knowing full well management was going to pull some new stunt to stir up ill feelings BETWEEN FELLOW EMPLOYEES. In other words, keep ‘em pissed off at each other, not us. IMHO, it’s why they are where they are today and ultimately will go the way of ALL companies with their obstructionist, non cooperative management structure. If the blue oval ever expects to stay in business, they must not repeat the mistakes of Chrysler and GM.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    Great snapshot.

    As I’ve said many times before, if management/owners aren’t involved in communicating the enterprises‘ purpose to employees, you get nowhere. An inclusive environment will outperform an adversarial one.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ european

    you should compare toyota’s and ford’s plants from TODAY, not what-was-way-back-then and what-is-now, ok?

    Should? Should? How would you suggest the author provide that as a personal point-of-view, you know, from his experience??? Make it up? Sheesh.

  • avatar
    european

    PeteMoran :
    visit both factories maybe (toyota & ford) presentday? no?

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    ohsnapback –

    The Edge is perhaps the most dated of Ford’s mainstream product offerings (I’d say the ultimate award goes to the Ranger). It was likely designed and approved before Mulally had any say in the matter. Given the promise to refresh all models after three or four years, the Edge is due for one soon.

    Regarding the Focus, the suspension and steering differ by trim level. The S and SE are pretty basic and nothing to write home about, but those trims are aimed at the value customer who likely doesn’t care much about driving dynamics. The SES and SEL are quite a bit better, maybe not up to the Civic in the details, but a lot better than the Cobalt, Caliber, or Elantra, and I’d wager they’d give the Corolla a run for the money.

    As far as the Fusion goes, Ford has to strike a delicate balance between offering more road feel and steering input to draw in input customers, while not making the ride too harsh or firm and offending the loyal domestic customer base. As hard as it is to believe, there are a lot of customers who still come into the dealership who don’t want to feel anything about the road in the suspension or steering, to them, the ultimate in ride is the old Lincoln ideal of floating on a cushion of air.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Ford doesn’t have quality equal to Toyonda. But it’s better than the other two Detroit companies.

    It seems to me Ford got the most out of having Deming in to teach them how to make quality, and they seem to have retained more of the lessons than GM (not sure GM was paying attention anyway).

    Still, they didn’t quite get the full meaning of Deming’s teachings.

    I’m still mad about having to pay to have my Ranger’s dash pulled so a mixer door could be replaced in the heating system. I’m not buying another Ford.

  • avatar
    George B

    ohsnapback :
    October 3rd, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    I have looked at Ford offerings in the last year, and I really think the quality angle they’re playing is overplayed.

    I found the dash of the Edge to be seriously dated, with cheap plastics and lame lime green nighttime illumination.

    The Focus had a mushy suspension, numb steering, and some seriously hard and unseemly plastics all over…

    In this article I think the author and Ford define quality in terms of reliability. I think you and others assume basic reliability is a given and define quality in terms of refinement. Maybe the two camps are talking past each other because two different definitions and expectations of “quality” are in play. As an example, I witnessed a lunchtime conversation about replacing an alternator among my electrical engineering coworkers. The long time GM owners swapped stories about replacing alternators. The long time Toyota owners had puzzled looks on their faces. Hadn’t occured to them that an alternator would wear out during the life of a car. Ford has worked their way up from disfunctional company manufacturing POS cars to much improved company making cars that are good enough at the right price. However, they still need to work on refinement if they want to command top tier prices.

  • avatar
    Loser

    Don’t kid yourselves, Toyota’s quality has been going down hill for a while. Our first new Toyota was a 1985 pickup and it was outstanding. Our latest/last is an ’03 4Runner that has been the worst new vehicle we have ever owned. The engine and paint are outstanding but the rest of it is crap. Our dissatisfaction didn’t start with the 4Runner. Over the years we have noticed a gradual cheapening of their vehicles. My wife refuses to look at another Toyota. It’s sad because the Toyota dealers have treated us very well.
    Honda is another story, I’m very impressed with Honda’s quality and they seem to be getting better. Problem is I don’t care much for any of their vehicles.

    We might give Ford another try but their dealers scare the hell out of me.

  • avatar
    Loser

    Ford has worked their way up from disfunctional company manufacturing POS cars to much improved company making cars that are good enough at the right price. However, they still need to work on refinement if they want to command top tier prices.

    George B, you are 110% correct.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    “Fear” may be the one-word answer given by the friend, but “Deming” is the one-word means to the end they achieved.
    I hadn’t realized things had come this far for them.

  • avatar

    They’re sedan trunk sizes have decreased, but not too small to haul this cadaver in Taurus tow..http://wp.me/pAL2t-9I

  • avatar
    taxman100

    The transmission in my Grand Marquis was built in Sharonville – and you local police and taxi service depend on them as well.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Don’t kid yourselves, Toyota’s quality has been going down hill for a while

    Do we have any data on that? Do the defects per 100 cars on a 5 yo car show that a 1999 5 year old Toyota had fewer defects than a 5 year old Toyota in 2009?

  • avatar
    James2

    I’d like to know which Ford plant built the Fox-body Mustang circa 1980… so that I might fire-bomb it.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Great editorial — thanks for sharing!

    I hope that folks will keep in mind that a single difficulty with a Ford product does not negate the incredible amounts of change that have been sustained on the factory floor at Ford.

  • avatar
    Loser

    jmo :
    October 4th, 2009 at 1:20 am

    Don’t kid yourselves, Toyota’s quality has been going down hill for a while

    Do we have any data on that? Do the defects per 100 cars on a 5 yo car show that a 1999 5 year old Toyota had fewer defects than a 5 year old Toyota in 2009?

    I don’t need to research data because as a long time Toyota owner (since 1985) I have many years of first hand experience. Over the years we have noticed a gradual cheapening of their vehicles, especially the interior quality. IMHO Toyota caught the “GM flu”.

    If you remember not that long ago Toyota’s president came out and admitted they were having problems.

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/toyota-falling-quality-is-job-one/

  • avatar
    C4Scargo

    I enjoyed reading his comparisons in regard to his actual experience related to the production side of Fords factories, but I feel his maintenance related comments are not so valid. An Electrician is a trained tradesman who has a qualification and has to be licensed,as is a pipefitter. You cannot expect them to be crosstrained as you would labour related tasks unless that individual has worked through the 8 years needed to obtain journeyman status for both trades.

    Maintenance budgets are always compromised as they are an expense and do not generate any direct income, only cost. Ford-Toyoda-Sony-Nabisco-Molson you name it, they are all the same. It broke? you wait!

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    People used to say to me – Oh, you work in smokestack industry. Always by someone outside manufacturing; the implication was we were filthy and obsolete.

    I said – Well, actually, we don’t have smokestacks any more. The plant I work in is clean and brightly lit, and the people there are normal, smart and hard working; and they work in self directed teams where they do most of their own set-up, operation, inspection, and trouble shooting. In fact, I’m the one who has trouble keeping up with their demands.

    When I said that, I could tell by the look on their face, they thought I was lying.

    I worked with some really great people in automotive manufacturing. They’re all scattered to the winds now. I wish them all the best. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

  • avatar
    Porsche986

    texmln :
    October 3rd, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    workers were lazy and would not produce unless they were afraid of being fired

    So what you’re saying is that this was and IS a completely true statement. Two thirds of the jobs have disappeared in the last 30 years and – shocking – the people in the one third that remain have figured out they need to shut up and produce or hit the soup line. Ford management had it right all along. Fire enough people any the rest will wake up and get the message

    Though I agree with the basis of your statement, you have to step back and away from the “details” of the article and think about ALL jobs… if you don’t produce (in whatever industry you are in) you will likely be fired.

    I think the better point of this article is the worker friendly clean-up in this specific facility, more open management-worker relations, and reduction in the overtly wasteful use of FTE’s on maintenance.

    And let’s focus on the real numbers too… Ford’s initial quality (from many sources, not just Consumer Reports and JD Powers) has improved to Toyota levels.

    Personally, I have only owned one Ford product in my life and it was great for what it was (college commuter) and it never once broke down or went back to the dealer in 100K miles. Of course there was really not much to break: it was a 1987 Mercury Lynx 1.9L EFI with a 4-speed stick and the only OPTION it had was a rear window defroster.

  • avatar
    geeber

    This excellent article shows that Ford has addressed the manufacturing and labor relations part of the equation.

    The key question is whether the company has addressed the vehicle development and cost-accounting parts of the equation.

    It won’t ultimately help the customers (or the company) if those parts installed by motivated workers in shiny, clean plants still fail just after the warranty expires.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Great article!

    SherbornSean: “I hope that folks will keep in mind that a single difficulty with a Ford product does not negate the incredible amounts of change … at Ford.”

    And I do try to keep that in mind. However —

    geeber: “It won’t ultimately help the customers (or the company) if those parts installed by motivated workers in shiny, clean plants still fail just after the warranty expires.”

    I’ve always been favorably disposed to FoMoCo but I had an experience similar to the one reported by sellfone. My ’03 Windstar’s transmission blew on a long uphill grade. Mileage: just over 60K, half by me. Repair cost: $1,600 ($2,500 at a dealership). Was it underengineered?

    True, I bought it used. Perhaps it had been abused early on. Still, a part did fail; not wear out. And I notice Consumer Reports says Ford’s minivans of that period have relatively high incidence of major transmission problems. So although I like what Ford is doing now, I have a lingering doubt: has transmission durability improved along with the process by they are made?

  • avatar
    rudiger

    “At one time Ford had three plants in Cincinnati, GM had two, and a few miles up I-75 Chrysler had a plant.”Where was the Chrysler plant? The only one that I’m aware of in the area was an Airtemp plant in Dayton which closed in 1976.

    If you’re going to include Dayton as part of Cincinnati, then you need to say GM had three plants: Norwood, Fairfield, and Moraine (Dayton).

  • avatar
    xyzzy

    This post piqued my interest and I tried to buy his book but it is not available on the Kindle. Hint: If you are going to promote a book on an instant-gratification blog medium, you should have it available for purchase and reading right away.

    I would like to say I’ll remember go back and buy it when they finally do make it available on the Kindle, but truth is I’ll probably have forgotten about it by the time that happens.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    50merc,
    Well, if you had bought an Odyssey, it would have cost you an extra $3K, and they have had tranny problems as well. This is the price you pay for having 3 kids… says the driver of a 10 year old Caravan who puts $1K+ in it a year.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Very interesting read…

    And I can tell you firsthand that Ford is building high quality cars. My ’05 Focus has over 50,000 miles, and aside from one major repair caused by my ham-fisted driving, has needed nothing but regular maintenance and normal wear-and-tear items.

    But I’ll also echo what others here have been saying: Ford has the quality and reliability down, but they need to sweat the interior details. Case in point: the new Fusion’s interior is a freakin’ black cave, albeit one that’s well made. No way that would ever pass muster in a Honda.

  • avatar
    rnc

    Do we have any data on that? Do the defects per 100 cars on a 5 yo car show that a 1999 5 year old Toyota had fewer defects than a 5 year old Toyota in 2009?

    I think this one is based on personal experiences, my oldest brother has owned nothing but mazda’a (2) and toyota’a (several) since the 80′s, he put over 500k on his late 80′s 4-runner, his newest one will be his last toyota (he says it just isn’t the same < 100k). Based on his advice I bought a 2001 Camry, the interior started falling apart very rapidly (the mirror covers on the visors, the power outlet, etc), the speed sensor went bad several times after warranty and at 101k one of the main drive bearings blew up (despite the oil being changed every 3-5k w/syn.). I remember after buying, sitting in my co-workers previous gen. camry and being so much more impressed (interior quality and styling).

  • avatar
    njdave

    I do think Ford’s quality has come up sharply, but they desperately need to work on their dealer experience. My youngest son bought a Focus, and he likes the car. The dealer talked him into buying the extended warranty even thought I kept telling not to buy it. The car had problems with the heater, kept blowing resistors. This was because of a leak in the heater hose. The dealer would not fix the hose because he didn’t want to do the work under warranty. They just replacing the resistors. Finally the heater hose really blew when he was almost at college. I taped it up and filled the radiator so he was able to drive it to the dealer. They kept finding reasons why it wasn’t covered under the extended warranty they talked him into buying even though we showed them all the receipts where their techs kept looking at the heating system and replacing those resistors. They flat out refused to fix the hose under warranty. We drove it to a local mechanic and paid him to fix it instead of paying the dealers blackmail demands. I will never buy another Ford product, because their dealers are terrible. The only other local dealer has a registered sex offender working there! The community has protested, but the dealer won’t get rid of him. Ford has got to do something about their dealers. Its a shame, because I like the new Fusion and would consider buying one, but I refuse to give business to either of my dealers.

  • avatar
    cdnsfan27

    Speaking from personal experience I can tell you that recent Ford vehicles are extremely reliable. We have an 05 Focus ST with 98K and a 06 Freestyle LTD with 72K. Neither has experienced any mechanical issues to date and remain rattle free. We enjoy both vehicles a great deal. Having said that we do not feel the same about having the vehicles serviced at the dealership. It is inconvenient and more expensive than a chain such as Goodyear. I don’t want to have to bum a ride because the car will be in the shop for 8 hours for a 1 hour service. Also the sevice advisor always gives me some dire warning about having something done that is not required by the service manual at that time. Ford needs to address this issue as it is a major disatisfier.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    OK, I learned something new today from njdave. There is a dealer that has a sales rep who is a registered sex offender.

    But here’s my question, is there a dealer that doesn’t have a registered sex offender selling cars? It would seem to go with the job description, no?

  • avatar
    alfred p. sloan

    I worked at Kenwort, Renton, Washington from July 2005 to January 2007. One could say is was “mearly” an assembly plant but it too had all of the Kaisan and toyota lean production that any car plant has. The shop too was brightly lit, workers rotated jobs and quality is everyone’s responsibility.

    were there problems, yes, I worked with engineering to get windshield surround rubbers to bond better with the fiberglass cabs. We worked as a team, Assemblyman and Engineer to massage the kinks out of that problem.

    The USA can build anything just as good or better than any where. Look at all the wonderful Hondas being made here now. It takes monumentous change at a company to do it, but the rewards are 1000 fold for both the CEO and the windshield man.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    James2 I’d like to know which Ford plant built the Fox-body Mustang circa 1980… so that I might fire-bomb it.

    Whoa! What’s with the hostility? The Fox body Mustang may have grown far long in the tooth by 2004, but in 1979 it was revolutionary. From this simple frame, Ford produced the Stang, Thunderchicken, Cougar, LTD, Fairmont, Continental, and Capri. It was a simple, strong platform that allowed for a variety of engines, trannys, and suspension setups. This allowed Ford to provide a true pony car again.

    In 1979, Ford introduced a turbo 4 in the GT, which evolved into having the 302 small-block, the famous 5.0, into the engine bay by 1982. By 1985 the little Stang pumped 225 HP, enough to make the 180 HP Corvette of the same era seem outrageously overpriced. Ford also reintroduced the convertible, previously declared dead by GM in 1977. Without the Fox body, Ford wouldn’t be nearly what it is.

  • avatar
    phiphi246

    An excellent article, thank you. I always wondered what the factories were like in the late 70′s early 80′s.

    My personal fear for Ford is that their initial quality over the next few years will fall due to having to let go of quite a few of their engineering consultants due to budget constraints. Hopefully they do fine with what they still have in house.

  • avatar
    Ford old timer

    I wonder why Toyota and other foreign car makers dealerships waste money on building service departments when so many of you think their cars are so great.

  • avatar
    Jaywalker

    I’m not breaking new ground here, but there’s a real difference between engineering and construction. From what I saw with my one-owner ’98 Explorer, the build quality was fine, and that’s what the story observed (’79 – ’09). It’s the engineering that lacks quality.

    Plastic parts caused failures in my Explorer’s cam chain tensioner, which Ford fixed under recall, but only after I spent $600 trying to have it repaired before the recall.

    The Firestone tire recall helped me a lot, as Ford bought me five new Michellin tires that took it 95,000 miles to the end of the truck’s useful life – it was still a Ford quality failure, though…

    I spent five hours trying to change the spark plugs, something that should take half an hour, because Ford engineers routed hard lines in the way of the plugs. It’s apparently even harder to replace them on newer Fords and Mazdas now, as you have to remove the intake manifold to get to them. How is that quality?

    My Explorer finally died at 153,000 miles, when the timing chain broke. A Ford dealer estimated repair costs at higher than the remaining vehicle value, and they wouldn’t warrant the repair, as they didn’t know “what damage the plastic parts might have done” to the rest of the engine.

    No more Fords for me, until I’m sure they’re making it for those of us who keep cars for the long term – I want more than “reliable,” I want “maintainable.”

  • avatar
    Russycle

    dolorean23, I was going to mock you for your defense of the Fox platform, but you make a good point. Compared to the utter crap Ford was producing in the 70s, the Fox was a small miracle. And credit to Ford for making the most of it.

  • avatar
    bigbadbill

    A great article on the Ford Sharonville Plant.

    After making some really AWFUL cars in the late 70′s and early 80′s they seem to be finally getting their act together under Alan Mullaly. I truly hope they succeed. It appears that a lot of people (read the comments) would just LOVE to see the domestic auto industry fail. The bitterness is acrid and of no help to anyone. Do these people who do buy foreign cars (or transplants) realize the final “profits” return to the country of origin and cause great problems in our balance of trade?

    Let’s look at South Korea. I understand they are making cars now (I’m being facetious). But Korea doesn’t play by the “rules” and only allows a very limited number of “foreign” (read American)autos into the country. No such rules exist for exports to the USA however. They can “dump” hundred of thousands of their products into the States and nobody seems to care. Last year the Korean auto workers went on strike when they heard that the Korean Government was going to allow American beef products into the country. (I think there was some sort of compromise, but I’m sure we got screwed) And so it goes…. I could start ranting about Japan and their restrictive trade practices too…but (I hope) you get the idea.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • Tycho de Feyter, China
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India