By on January 22, 2007

05mustang_prod_08222.jpgEnthusiasts don’t tend to wax eloquent about seat tracks. They’re the automotive equivalent of the sliding rails that support file cabinet drawers when you pull them all the way out. A vehicle’s front (and occasionally rear) seats slide forward on them, they slide backwards. Done. No surprise then that seat tracks aren’t mentioned in commercials. They’re never part of a car salesman’s spiel. And there’s no seat track website or blog. Yet seat tracks are a key part of any car, pickup, minivan, SUV or CUV. 

In the early twenties, The Hudson Motor Car Company was the first automaker to implement sliding seat technology, making their products safer and more comfortable for a wide range of drivers. Not to belabor the obvious, Hudson’s adjustable seats helped height-challenged drivers reach the pedals and hold the steering wheel. They also allowed tall people to slide the seat backwards, to get enough room to operate the foot pedals effectively. They were an instant hit from the start; virtually every modern vehicle made uses seat tracks.

From a safety point-of-view, seat tracks hold the driver in place during a crash. Some cars (e.g. Mercedes SL) now have the entire seat belt and shoulder harness connected directly to the seat, adding additional weight to the mass the seat track must arrest. And, lest we forget, seat tracks must also be user-friendly, cheap, quiet, smooth, durable and reliable.

The Ford Motor Company hasn’t made a seat track in decades. Like roughly two thirds of the parts in an average Ford, seat tracks are provided by the automaker’s suppliers. For decades, Ford engineers designed the tracks, made blueprints, and then sent the drawings to likely suppliers for a price quote. The lowest price got the job.

In the late ‘80’s into the early ‘90’s, this subcontracting process changed. Ford cut back on its body engineering staff. They asked their suppliers to step up and do more of the design and engineering work. Many of their suppliers agreed. After all, the design process offered more work and increased control over product quality and price. The fact that the supplier base simply didn’t have all the engineering resources required to effectively realize this commitment didn’t seem to bother Ford, and it certainly didn’t bother the suppliers.

Not surprisingly, there were problems. Ford’s customers complained, warranty rates soared and some embarrassing failures ensued. Ford also discovered that they paid more for their seat tracks than most of their competitors.

Ford re-built their seat engineering department. A budget was appropriated. A dozen new engineers and managers were hired. Unfortunately, most of the new hires had worked at Ford’s seat track suppliers. They were, in fact, responsible for the original seat track quality “issues.” The problems persisted.

So Ford fired all their existing domestic suppliers and brought in a new one from abroad. This supplier had been supplying seat tracks to some of the world’s finest cars. They’d never triggered a single recall. Their engineering staff was well respected, their manufacturing facilities top-flight. And, perhaps best of all, they promised to find ways to save Ford money.

It didn’t take them long to solve the problem. All seat tracks do the same job, yet the new supplier soon discovered that Ford had well over a dozen seat tracks in different cars and trucks. Using the same tracks would save big money in manufacturing and inventory. More importantly, it would allow the engineers to spend their time developing the world’s best seat tracks– instead of spending time, energy and money on a dozen second-rate tracks.

The outside supplier also learned that every Ford car and truck had different mounting brackets or “feet.” Sometimes the differences in mounting points were as little as a quarter inch. Sometimes different sized bolts were used. Other feet were excessively heavy, far stronger than either the tracks or the floor to which they were attached. Occasionally the feet were too weak. The supplier calculated savings in the many millions by recommending parts commonality to many, if not all, of Ford’s products.

Common feet would mean that the engineers could apply all of their efforts to optimizing the design of one set of feet. Dollars and pounds would be saved. Naturally, the supplier expected Ford to be pleased when they presented their findings and recommendations. Who could argue with changes that saved money and improved quality?

It didn’t take long for Ford to respond. In no uncertain terms, the supplier was told never again to interfere with Ford’s engineering process. “Make the parts that we specify. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Although Ford CEO Alan Mulally hasn't turned his attention to seat rails, news reports reveal that he's taken-up the parts commonality crusade. It remains to be seen if Ford's $35m man can get there before the financial well runs dry, and if the vehicles made from these parts will capture the public imagination. One thing is for sure: the "bad old days" aren't over yet, and they can't end soon enough. 

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81 Comments on “Ford Death Watch 23: There are 12k parts in an average Ford. This is a story about four of them....”

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    Doesn’t it just go to show the stupidity, arrogance and ineptness of the big 3?

    An acquaintance started to ask me about my “little furrin” car at church Sunday, and waxed enthusiastic about the new Ford crossover (which one, who can tell?) He related that it would be a good time for me to go back to Ford.

    Um. I was polite but, uh, no.

    My first Ford was a 1975 Ford Pinto station wagon, in red, bought new on my 18th birthday.

    I couldn’t quite afford the 1975 Opel 1900 station wagon (the last of the “real” German built Opels ever imported to the US under their own name).

    After my Pinto experience, I didn’t even give consideration to a Ford product for, oh, I believe it was 20 years or more. Got a Taurus, used. Pretty nice copy of the Audi, albiet with an OHV V6 instead of a SOHC inline five, and with too-soft bench seats. (And they say the Chinese are copiers…)

    After the ignition lock broke and I spent $350, I decided to trade it off.

    Later on, I got a used Lincoln Town Car in a moment of weakness (upon gazing at the lovely leather and knowing the reputation the car had with the SOHC V8, of getting MPG in the mid-20’s on the highway). What an absolute POS!

    Three Ford products in over 30 years of buying, and I’ve learned my lesson. NEVER MORE.

    Likewise, GM and Chrysler. NEVER MORE.

  • avatar

    As a DIYer, I would LOVE to see more standardization among such innocuous parts. Not only would this save money on manufacturing, it would also expand the aftermarket exponentially when people with Fusions start lining up to buy Mustang seats to pimp their rides. The incremental sales and profits would be tremendous; I would expect that they would far outweigh the design compromises made in the process.

  • avatar
    Bob Elton

    “Yesterday” was about 2 weeks ago. Mullaly canhave all the good intentions in the world, but the word hasn’t seeped down to the working level yet.

    I could write a similar story about door latches.

    None of this is lost, ofcourse, on the UAW. Can you truly believe that they will accpet cuts in members wages and bvenefits will this kind if inept managemetn goes on?

    Bob Elton

  • avatar
    Michael R.

    Excellent, insightful article. Thank you.

    The last paragraph seems to infer that again, Ford is faulting its suppliers for what is essentially a problem in their own development process. It’s ludicrous to blame suppliers for somehow wresting control of engineering and QC away from Ford. Of course the suppliers should have been delivering components that meet specifications, but Ford should have seen the eventual problems with farming out engineering AND manufacturing to the lowest bidder. Ford’s eventually responsible for the quality of the vehicle the user drives off the lot, from the seat tracks to the air in the tires.

    What job is quality again?

  • avatar

    I had similar experiences as a GM supplier trying to commonize certain parts. In many cases the OEM engineers/managers just can’t be bothered to change the way things have always been done in their respective corner of the company. In other cases, we were successful.

    One big problem is buyers not having sufficient technical knowledge of what they are buying.

  • avatar

    The Dana corp in reading PA made seat tracks for the escort for years. They all had to be recalled because the seat would slip forward when in the rearmost position. Dana had interns and apprentices making the parts, quality was secondary.

  • avatar

    Consider my experience with 1999 Ford Contour.

    First summer I owned the car the dashboard became very warped, looked like a )(*&)(* train wreck. Went to dealer replaced under warranty.

    Next summer same thing. Again replaced under warranty.

    Finally next summer again (!?). This time they put in new dash with “repair kit” – metal pieces riveted on to keep it in shape.

    This was obviously not an assembly issue, it was a very poorly engineered part. For spent tons of money replacing these with same part, over and over, and hurt reputation in process. The basic problem was never fixed, a jury rig was used.

    People (me) complain about UAW, but many quality issues are simply the parts. And Ford does not seem to have this figured out.

    (btw not a bad car, over all I like it . . . but give me a break)

  • avatar

    I’m curious…

    …as no time frame was given for the “don’t tell us how to do it, just do it like we say” message, I’m wondering which management was in place:

    1. The “cheaper at all costs” Jac Nasser version

    2. The “conservative, but higher quality” Bill Ford version

    3. The “change or die” Fields/Mullaly version.

    I ask this because of the anti-domestic guys that don’t differentiate. Ford, under Nasser, was trying to kill itself and unfortunately being rewarded for its efforts with huge earnings. Nasser killed car programs and had no interest in quality., so I’d not be surprised if this happened on his watch.

    Ford’s time (late 2001-2006) had him picking up the mess. The much-lambasted Five Hundred had one of Ford’s lowest-defect launches ever, as has the Fusion and the powertrain improvements appear to be almost in place. Given how much quality improved during this period, I’d be surprised if it happened on his watch…then again, this sort of thing may not get up to his office.

    I truly doubt Alan Mullaly and Mark Fields would let this sort of thing slide…so I don’t think it was real recent.

  • avatar

    Bob Elton,
    I think it’s a bit unrealistic to think that within 4 months of joining the company that Mulally can change the design, and manufacturing of all Ford products to use common components. The UAW might want to be reasonable (HA!) and give him a little time to try and change the top of the company.

    From Monica Langley’s article in the Wall Street journal last month:
    “Recently, on a table in his office, he laid out 12 different metal rods that Ford uses to hold up a vehicle’s hood. He wanted to demonstrate to managers that this kind of variation is costly but doesn’t matter to consumers.”

    You can read the whole article at

    Mulally sounds like he might, MIGHT, be able to turn Ford around. He seems to echo a lot of common-sense ideas discussed in this forum, from abandoning the new Lincoln nomenclature to trimming the brand portfolio. Hopefully it’s a sign that while at Boeing he cut the different number of planes from 14 to 4.

  • avatar

    Part of me feels sorry for the grunt workers at ford. And the other part thinks every executive should loose their job, unfortunately the people really responsible have golden parachutes that will net them millions as the company goes down the tubes.

  • avatar

    This is not just a Big 3 problem.

    In my years working on BMWs, I saw all sorts of ridiculous parts engineering/purchasing decisions…

    1) Company A makes lousy window regulators for the E36 (3-series, 1992-1999). Company A still gets the contract to make EVEN WORSE window regulators for the E46 3-series.

    2) Some years/models of 6-cylinder BMWs had water pumps with PLASTIC impellers. These almost universally failed within 4 years/60k miles.

    3) Cupholders were complex, fragile mechanisms that frequently broke and sometimes took 2 hours+ to replace. One customer got so frustrated at his 5-Series cupholder breaking that he designed his own and convinced the dealership parts dept. to market it for him.

    4) The sunshade drive tab on the E46 moonroof assembly was a thin piece of plastic bonded to a metal tang. When the plastic piece broke, the ONLY way to fix it was to replace the entire moonroof assembly.

    5) Etc., etc., etc.

    OTOH, the seat rails were pretty sturdy….:-D…

  • avatar

    I can’t find it online, but the current Autoweek mentions the 2008 Focus as one of its NAIAS losers, because in the end it cost more to freshen up the current Focus than to bring the C1 Focus over to the States.

    That’s pre-Mullaly tunnel vision to the max. Hope he truly does shake up things, and someone in the loop please e-mail him this editorial if he doesn’t already know.

  • avatar

    I recall a few years ago reading that some Chevy bumper had 47 different parts, and the Honda, 7. Which one might be more expensive to build and install? I do repair work in an industry in which it is obvious that engineers need something to do, so they redesign things that don’t need it, while ignoring issues until the returns become catastrophic. It is called busy work, and if you design one set of seat tracks and leave it that way, why the heck to you need all those expensive cad-cam systems anyway?

    It is called justifying your pay check, and to expect anything less is to ignore human nature. Think MADD, their mission has essentially changed from reforming drunk driving laws to become a temperance society. But those paychecks still flow!

  • avatar

    FWIW, looks like the new facelifted Focus is one of the ugliest new cars on the way–which I think just adds further insult to the decision. I was absolutely shocked when I saw the pics. It makes the Sebring look like a Pininfarina:

    Check it out

  • avatar


    I recall a story about how Toyota used only 2 or 3 horn assemblies across their entire vehicle line while the 2.5 had a different horn for almost every vehicle. Do you have any info on common seat track implementation by any OEM ? That would really bring the story home.

  • avatar

    It could be worse, they could be gluing them together.

  • avatar

    1) Company A makes lousy window regulators for the E36 (3-series, 1992-1999). Company A still gets the contract to make EVEN WORSE window regulators for the E46 3-series.

    This is because under German labor law you cant fire a supplier. The German Labor Unions answer to corporate outsourcing. It is amazing to me that Germany can function at all with Labor Unions and the legal Berlin Mafia being almost one in the same.

  • avatar

    This is perhaps the largest problem with both Ford and GM – having an adversarial relationship with their suppliers has become part of the corporate culture. Honda and Toyota want their suppliers to succeed, but Ford/GM don’t care if their suppliers go bankrupt just as long as they can save a few bucks. That’s one of the reasons I moved to the Honda group a few years ago…I couldn’t deal with the domestics anymore, with buyers on huge power trips demanding irrational cost-cutting while having no technical knowledge of the actual product. Plus, there seems to be something else ingrained in the culture – an inability to make even the smallest decisions without consulting one’s superiors. I think that’s why they tend to stick to “the way things have always been”, because none of them are willing to take the risk to change something. Perhaps the sense of inadequacy this creates is what causes most of them to behave like total dolts when dealing with suppliers.

    To be fair, Honda and Toyota also outsource a lot of their engineering to suppliers – they (correctly) realize that a supplier that specializes in a certain subcomponent will have more expertise in that area than their own people. My company has been doing engineering for Honda for the past 10-15 years, and I’m currently working on the next-gen Accord and Pilot…once you prove yourself to them, they are also very loyal and will usually stick with you for future models (unlike Ford/GM).

    It wasn’t a mistake for Ford to outsource engineering for seat tracks, the mistake was in how they did it…they should have started with a supplier with the proper expertise, and then followed their advice.

    This isn’t to say that Honda and Toyota don’t also have serious problems, because they do…there is a reason that I design parts for Honda and yet drive a Ford to work every day, and it isn’t just because I like to annoy the Honda folk when I drive them to lunch.

  • avatar

    “To be fair, Honda and Toyota also outsource a lot of their engineering to suppliers”

    I recall that Honda outsourced the speedometer from the 1998 -2002 Accord to Ford of all sources. Now, the speedometer in our 2001 Accord is a fine instrument. Smooth movements, holds its speed at cruse, etc. However, the speedometer in my 1995 Ford Countour bounced all over the place +/- 5 mph, which the Ford shop said was “normal” Clearly, the parts were designed to a price.

    Likewise, the Mary Walton book Car cronicalling the development of the 1996 Taurus had a chapter talking about Ford’s evaluation of the then new and benchmark 1992 Camry. As soon as they could, Ford got a hold of a new Camry, tore it apart and estimated it cost $3000 more to build than their budget for the Taurus.

    You get what you pay for.

  • avatar

    I wonder if any business school educators (or students) regularly read this site. Because they should. What a fascinating expose of how corporate culture works, or doesn’t. I hope someone does forward this to Mulally.
    Do you suppose it was an individual, or a committee, that read the riot act to the “good” supplier? As the ship Captain once said, “the beatings shall continue until morale improves”…

  • avatar

    As far as seat-tracks go there is always the law that could get in the way. Your supplier who has come up with this great idea to make all seat tracks universal and has a good design ready for you now owns that design. You can no longer put that design out for competitive bid and if you choose to use that design are now locked into that single supplier at whatever cost they deem acceptable. Overall that is still probably the smart choice because it would save money in the long run but I’m betting Ford doesn’t want to be dictated to by its suppliers. As well if they try to implement that design without showing that Ford came up with it entirely by themselves they get sued.

    Now the smart thing to do is to put out a contract to your main suppliers asking them to do analysis on the parts they supply and ask how they could improve them or help Ford reduce costs. Then you pay them for that analysis. Now you pick the ones you like and send it out for bid.

  • avatar

    When I worked for VW in the late ’70s & early ’80s they were just beginning to manufacture cars in Pennsylvania. The domestic Rabbits were horrible compared to the German ones, thanks to the inept hand of the US manufacturing team and the total inability of the parts suppliers to make parts within any reasonable proximity of the specification.

    They couldn’t get the colors of interior pieces to match, the fit of just about everything was terrible because the tolerance range of parts was too wide. The cars were junk from the get-go, a fact only exacerbated by the valve seal problems in the engines of both German and US models which VW refused to acknowledge for a very long time.

    Arrogant management, unions all around, bad designs, too many bean counters, you name it; the cumulative effect across multiple manufacturers has been to produce lots of cars where lots of things only work up to a point.

    The frustrating thing is that none of this stuff is rocket science. The Japanese (mostly) do this stuff pretty well. Why not here?

  • avatar

    This is not only a big 2.5 problem, not only an auto industry problem, but on almost all industry. Take a look at the computer industry, it is even worse.

    In an example of one of my previous employers. One want everything to be standardized, so a low end product and high end one both build from the same code, run different controller, different size of memory, and different speed, but just configured differently. The result is a high end product that is too slow and a low end product that is too expensive, both were buggy, because we were never fast enough to fix all the bug on the MxNxOxP matrix on every possible combination.

    My other employer is completely opposite, it wanted everything to be done fast and quick, and split the team so they can respond quick. So, every product have the same code designed by different people and it is very quick, responsive, and reliable. The problem is now we have M times as many people doing the same work, thus we are not able to be as cheap as we wanted and lose money on most of the product.

    The problem of integrate vs separate is a classic management problem that is not easy to solve, and has no universal answer. If you want to do it right, you have to hire the right manager to make the right decision every time. The problem of Ford’s seat rail? They didn’t have enough people or give them enough authority to evaluate the problem constantly.

  • avatar

    I’m imagining that if Ford did succeed in intergrating their parts, we’d be left wondering why we have parts for a Focus sitting in a Lincoln and criticize Ford for building cars that look like they were cobbled together from parts bin pieces.

  • avatar

    I couldn’t deal with the domestics anymore, with buyers on huge power trips demanding irrational cost-cutting while having no technical knowledge of the actual product.

    Anybody else think this is a HUGE problem? Would anybody send non-technical people out to make technical decisions (Other than a MBA that is)? MBAs should just stick to marketing toothpast and Twinkies and not attempt to run a profoundly technical auto companies. The problem with Business School education is Business School education. As an Engineer JK, I feel your, um, aggravation.
    Sending non-technical people to make technical decisions is like bringing a plastic butter knife to a gun fight.

    JK: I know you are bound by NDA but does the new Accord have the two-tier dash with digital speedo like the Civic?

  • avatar

    Man, this crew is always harsh on “the MBAs,” which has become the derogatory term for anyone in charge without a clue. I am one of those MBAs and I am still a car guy; engineering just didn’t suit my personality as a discipline of study. The problem lies more with conflicting incentives–you can’t get one group to be motivated with technical excellence while the other group (in charge) is motivated by cost cutting. You just need someone in charge to reconcile the two, even if it means short-term losses on a long-term quality product.

    I’m imagining that if Ford did succeed in intergrating their parts, we’d be left wondering why we have parts for a Focus sitting in a Lincoln

    There are plenty of $15k VW parts found in $80k Audis, but nobody seems to mind that too much–because the parts are quality to begin with. Those things are satisfactory to the high-end owner, and “Oh wow” to the low-end owner. Great way to keep a customer for life, IMO. I sometimes swear I’ll never own another VW for the little hassles, but I’ve gotten really addicted to nice interiors and switchgear.

  • avatar

    I don't think common seat rails on Fords would present a problem to anyone ever. Nor would anyone bitch and moan if the seat rails were identical on a Lincoln– AS LONG AS THEY ARE WELL MADE (see: comment above). But yes, obviously, there are parts that should not be carried over from model to model and brand to brand. My personal pet peeve is the radio Ford shoves into all its cars and trucks and SUV's; the one with the "magic toothpicks" display from 1979. It's cheap and nasty and bland and ugly. Just as platform sharing isn't necessarily a sin, neither is a certain amount of parts commonality. But when you're trying to create brand-specific models, you must be careful to differentiate where necessary. You don't want a Lincoln to have a cheap ass trunk strut that makes the rear lid close like a Focus. (Well, I dont'). Like the man said, it's not rocket science.

  • avatar
    Jan Andersson

    I just read that GM uses 12 different V6 engines, Toyota and Nissan just a few. Totota uses 2 seatframes in all, GM 26. Maybe 1 really well made will do?

  • avatar

    On our Passat – there were a lot of little parts with Audi’s symbol stamped on it – for example the Audi screwdriver and other small items. Would Audi owners be offended their $80K+ A8 had the same screwdriver as a lowly Rabbit? Probably not, because they aren’t paying for a screwdriver, the vast majority of the car should be Audi, not VW. Which makes me wonder- since VW makes many more cars than Audi – was someone at VW smart enough to say – hey lets stamp these screwdrivers Audi and not VW? We can use them in Audis even though they are the same as the VW? Wonder if the same screwdriver shows up in Bentleys too?


  • avatar

    I just read that GM uses 12 different V6 engines, Toyota and Nissan just a few. Totota uses 2 seatframes in all, GM 26. Maybe 1 really well made will do?

    Nissan uses a few engines because of the direction of Carlos Ghosn, the guru of hack-and-slash cost cutting. Prior to his arrival, Nissan had 5 different 4-cylinder engines and 4 different 6-cylinder engines. Then again, these engines were created to satisfy the diverse lineup they used to have.

    Of course, having one engine would limit the level of diversity GM could have, which would put them back in the same spot they’re in now: same car, different badge. You can’t get away from badge engineering by limiting yourself to just one engine.

  • avatar
    Bob Elton

    For what it’s worth, I have both an engineering degree and an MBA (and an BFA). That’s why I get so irritated with poor business decisions. No decent MBA graduate would run a business like Ford does.

    I have been working on various Ford projects for about 2 decades. By and large, this story could have been written any time. Nothing has really changed, since Trotman and Ford 2000, through Nasser, Billy, and now Mullaly.

    FWIW, I don’t think Mullaly is really serious about changing things any more than the previous bunch. If he was, heads would roll, Aston Martin would be sold, and Jaguar closed.

    My GM and Chrysler experience has been almost as bad.

    The first piece I ever wrote for TTAC compared Ford to Studebaker. Nothing that has happened in the last 3 years causes me to doubt the conclusions I reached back then. That story, incidently, was the result of 2 years research for my MBA thesis. Which is why I occasionally get into a rut talking about Studebaker. (and Ford).


  • avatar

    I learned from this thread that EVERY industry is incompetent — by golly it’s amazing anything ever gets done anywhere!

  • avatar

    There is nothing wrong with, and everything to gain from having a partnership with a supplier in the design and manufacture of parts. There are a number of really good and competent parts suppliers out there. The issue can often be the relationship that the OEM's have with their suppliers. I know nothing of how Ford deals with it's suppliers on the areas of quality, on-time delivery, cost and half a hundred other factors but if it is anything like the way the competition deals with it's suppliers, how there is not more issues is nothing short of miraculous. To put it mildly, where the General is concerned, the relationship between OEM and supplier is absolute poison. I work for one of the best and most successful parts suppliers to the automotive industry and one of the few not, either in Chapter 11 or on the brink of it! I have seen senior members of local management and our quality liason people verbally abused and threatened over quality issues in the most disgusting and childish manner possible in meetings at the OEM. The way these imbeciles treat people is shocking and absymal. It is not that I feel that there should not be a complaint and action taken against a supplier who delivers a defective part, there should be, but the manner and the form this sometimes takes is unbelievable. Add to that the reluctance on the part of this OEM to deal with it's own effeciencies (or lack thereof) and putting immense pressure on suppliers to cut costs and implement CI programs to allow 10 to 15% per year give-backs to the OEM over the life of a program. Many suppliers have been driven out of business by this ruthless attitude and even some of the big ones are in CH 11 as a result of it. This comes from a culture of confrontation and arrogance that has only gotten worse with time. It is this culture which IMO is the biggest reason why GM is about to slam into a wall! It is why they still expect us to buy their lacklustre, inferior products (if we know what's good for us). There is no doubt that GM and Ford have the talented people in product design, engineering and in the assembly plants to build superior products but there is a corporate culture in these companies that stinks like a rotten corpse. We often criticize the UAW/CAW for the problems in the domestic auto industry but any issues here are dwarfed by the arrogance and sheer stupidity of the folks running the show (some of them, not all). In considering the way management talk down to the lower grades and the abuse that is flung around, the line workers NEED a good union to protect them from being victimised as they surely would be otherwise. I have witnessed this myself first hand. How they get away with it is beyond me.

  • avatar

    Parts standardization seems to be one of those things that Toyota uses to its advantage in terms of cost cutting and manufacturing streamlining. I don't remember where, but it was mentioned that many Toyotas have the same dashboard mounting widths so if demand for the Highlander goes down and more Corollas are needed, a production line at a Toyota factory can retool for Corollas with minimum downtime. However, this sort of ability can only come if all levels of engineers from design to manufacture, work closely together. I'm sure both Honda and Toyota have their own manufacturing quirks and internal management problems with the way they do things. However, it seems like they deal with the problems faster A few people mentioned sharing parts betwen low and high end cars of the same company. It seems like the Big 2.5 are parts-binning the few parts that are most easily noticed: turn signal/wipers, radio head unit, etc. Other companies seem to do it with insignificant or non-visible parts such as seat rails and window regulators. I'm just baffled as to why the Ford Focus's turn signal stalks were chosen for the Ford GT. Minor detail, yes, but in a halo car? Wouldn't Aston, Jaguar or Land Rover turn signal stalks, or even the ones out of the Mustang, been a far better choice?

  • avatar

    I wonder if any business school educators (or students) regularly read this site. Because they should. What a fascinating expose of how corporate culture works, or doesn’t.

    Oh they do…well I do.

    Just as in any profession (or, anything) there is good and bad, right and wrong reasons. Like another poster said, there are people with MBA’s who care about cars and the end product, who work at GM and Ford and put up fights about this kind of crap. Unfortunately there are probably more people who have tunnel vision, can’t see the forest for the trees (or the car for the seat rail – ha, ha…).

    It’s well chronicled that upper management in Detroit tends to come from finance backgrounds, assuming they haven’t stewed at their employer for decades. Why bring outside/fresh blood when there aren’t enough jobs for those already there? Make no mistake, it takes some clever minds to run a ship like Toyota, and it takes more than just good engineering (though that is the foundation). One of my best professors actually did market research for them, and came away very impressed with their thoroughness and open-mindedness.

    The Detroit 2.5 have failed in putting a value on intangibles like pleasant ownership experience, ease of repair, ease of maintenance, ergonomics, driving dynamics, even “value”. That’s the biggest difference I feel when I get in just about any German or Japanese car – the sensation that it was created by people who cared about what was being built and how it would be used. MBA or not, passion for one’s work matters, a lot.

  • avatar
    Captain Tungsten

    Purchasing people tend to take every available opportunity to run amok in search of “cost savings” when their colleagues in engineering abdicate their responsibility for actually doing engineering work. Engineering isn’t just about designing the ultimate seat rail, it’s about managing the cost of materials and process and evaluating alternatives that result in the best performance with the lowest cost. And demanding quality purchases by being able to argue their value persuasively.

    It’s easy to calculate the $$ spent on purchased materials and parts, purchasing folks calculate it to the nearest penny and force it down as rapidly as they can get away with. It’s more difficult to calculate the costs in assembly efficiency, warranty cost and customer satisfaction when you start reducing quality and reliability because of poor purchasing decisions. The best business decisions are only made when all this information is considered. The alternative is a lot of quality problems, finger pointing and increased costs for purchaser and supplier alike.

    The job of purchasing is to buy what engineering tells them to buy, in the quantities they need and at the appropriate quality level, at the lowest possible price. Period. To ask them or allow them to do more than that is big trouble.

  • avatar
    Sid Vicious

    I’ve said it before – after 17 years on the inside and near inside, I can’t believe the F*^%$n wheels don’t fall off going down the road.

    The article is accurate and to the point – way too many arrogant, adversarial and clueless people in charge. I doubt Mullaly can turn the tide in time.

    I had a 2000 F150 V6 MT. A guy who worked for me had the exact same truck. Just outside 3/36 his clutch slave cylinder leaked all over the clutch/flywheel. Repair cost – $1200.

    Next time I changed my oil I figured I better take a look. No oil leak, but – what’s that on the slave cylinder? Recycle code PA66? A F^&;$#*n PLASTIC (Nylon) hydraulic cylinder on my truck?!?!? Are they KIDDING? This couldn’t be something the tranny supplier (Aisin?) recommeded, but likely forced by an MBA. To save perhaps $3 or $4. (I guess Ford would say it’s my fault for buying the loss leader.)

    I promptly traded the truck on a Toyota. My Toyota has a nice aluminum clutch release cylinder. I will NEVER go back to Detroit.

    All hope is lost.

  • avatar

    Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s when it looked like Chrysler was doomed again Thomas Stallkamp and others instituted a novel program to involve suppliers as partners in the business who would not only help them develop the best parts but also show them ways to save money. This made the suppliers sucessful tos instead of forcing droconian price cuts on them and threatening their econcomic viability. This program known as SCORE was very succesful. Some jounalists referred to it as Chrysler’s American keiretsu. Two links: one about how it saved money on various car programs,

    and the other a paper done by students at the University of Michigan (longer but an execellant read of how to do it right by suppliers),

    Of course after Daimler Benz merged with took over Chrysler the program was discontinued and it was back to the old “cut you prices by 10%” or else bullying.

  • avatar

    Since there are lots of comments on the issue of common parts used across models and brands, here is a nice curve for y’alls:

    In the early 80’s there was a class action against GM because GM was selling Buicks with Chevy V8 engines. Does anybody know how this lawsuit was resolved? Does it even matter if GM uses one engine in five different brands of cars? I do not think it should, so the next question is why would anybody want to sue over this?

  • avatar

    Vince, stick around for a while. The negativity has been (unfortunately) well earned. Much of it is borne of frustration that once-great companies, held decades ago as models of American industrial superiority, have largely self-destructed to the brink of insolvency.

    Vince and Zanary: Japan and Germany can have the Isuzu/Mitsu/VW death watches. TTAC doesn’t have them because the death of those companies won’t have a profound impact on the North American industrial landscape.

    Maybe I’m being a little presumptuous speaking on RF’s behalf…

  • avatar


    Hey! Just want you to know that all of these “negative” *stories* are by and large the absolute truth.

    RF has shown his brilliance by tapping into this otherwise untapped angst/anger.

    And believe me, the anger is real.

    The second-most expensive purchase one usually makes is a car. Nobody…I repeat, NOBODY enjoys getting screwed.

    Now…just imagine…just IMAGINE…

    30 YEARS of SCREWDOME!!!! Absolutely…there are quite a few people out there who vomit when they hear the words “GM” and “FORD”.

    Iconoclastic? So what….let the plants close where they will. Nobody owes these dirtbags a living. If you wish to support them, go ahead and give alms ….but it’s not mandatory….not from a legal point of view, nor from a “patriotic” point of view.

    The American flag waving in the wind is obstructed from view from the smoke arising from the ruins of GM and Ford (Chrysler is not even worth mentioning).

    Is there a Phoenix?

    Who cares at this point…to many decent alternatives!!

  • avatar

    too (vs to).

    I’d take a Mitsubishi over a GM / Ford any day of the week.

    There are the underdogs busting their ass’s to do what’s right…and then you have the thugs who “demand” based upon their strength and their size.

    Which do you prefer?

    I’ll take a Hyundai Azera any day over a Buick (Woods be damned…he can keep his 9 iron for all I give a sh*t).

  • avatar

    Bob Elton:

    “Naturally, the supplier expected Ford to be pleased when they presented their findings and recommendations. Who could argue with changes that saved money and improved quality?

    It didn’t take long for Ford to respond. In no uncertain terms, the supplier was told never again to interfere with Ford’s engineering process. “Make the parts that we specify. Nothing more, nothing less.” “

    Okay, in a prior post I said I hadn’t yet sworn off Ford vehicles for the rest of my life. But now I’m having second-thoughts…

    Bob, do you have any links to outside sources of this story? I would greatly appreciate it.

  • avatar

    For what it’s worth, and to increase your sample size,

    I had to spend $1100 on my (1998) Taurus getting the power steering rack replaced, I left for work one day and about half way there the power steering pump started screaming, I pulled over and found a bone dry resevoir, because the seals on the end of the rack had failed causing the fluid to *spray* out of the end of the rack.

    I understand that this is a common problem, another of those parts that was made as cheaply as possible, doesn’t anyone else think that maybe this whole thing about “built by the lowest bidder” isn’t such a good idea?

    About the part sharing, I notive that Ford puts the same headlight controls on every single car, truck, and SUV it makes. I agree that the shared parts should be those which cannot be immediately spotted, but Ford doesn’t seem to care.

    The switchgear leaves a lot to be desired, it’s got the cheapest, nastiest controls they could dig out of the bottom of the parts bin. The window lockout switch is especially offensive, it’s thin, cheap, noisy (rings hollow when you switch it) , and flimsy.

    All of this on the SE trim level, which was supposed to be the highest one, save the SHO.

    As for VW, the 1984 Vanagon I had didn’t have a single part that didn’t have both the VW and Audi logo on it, never mind the fact that they all said “made in W. Germany” on them.

    Don’t get me started on the Wasserboxer engine, which was supposedly installed in the Vangon because the German unions wouldn’t have the idea of laying off the people who knew the boxer engines. I’ve read in a couple of places that VW had intended to install the I4 from the Golf in the Vanagon, but the unions had a Sh__fit about it and said no. The early Vanagons had an air cooled, 2000cc engine, and when they could no longer make these meet the emissions requirements, they bolted some pipes to the thing, added water cooled heads, and called it good, all because the unions wouldn’t let them use the Golf engines.

    It’s not just American labor unions that make life suck for everybody. I guess it’s a cushy place to be, as a union member, as long as you don’t give a crap about building a quality product.

  • avatar

    soon there will be no single us-based supplier, just factories that assemble import parts together, mazda gearboxes, mazda engines, floorpan, bosch electronics etc. us looses her manufacturing base at the fastest rate in history. during G.W.Bush`s presidency already 2,7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost. and the fault is in the lack of quality and attitude. detroit doesn`t want to do long term investments, just grab the money. japanese are already taught in kindergarten the fine arts of drawing and precision, while their us peers make rap songs, express their freedom in wall painting and selling. ford must realize if they want to survive, they must be as good as japanese. if the next gen mustang is better than previous one, it means nothing , if it is still behind honda or mitsu. go into the root of the problem. ask why foreign suppliers can do precision parts, but you fail? why almost every single american company fails in precision mechanisms?( you don`t wanna know who really created your i-pod nano and whose robots stamp chips for intel). it is so sad to page through popular mechanics magazine and look at honda, infiniti, wendy`s, toyota, honda, burger king, yahoo, honda ads.

  • avatar

    Ford already has alot of shared parts in its cars. It is still the worst offender of the Big 3 for badge engineering – so you have shared doors, roofs, and glass. Inside, you may notice that there is only one design of instrument panel buttons/knobs shared on everything from the Fusion on up to the Lincolns. The only difference is the color: Ford=black, Lincoln=silver. The only cars exempt from this scheme are the Panther platform, because those cars haven’t been redesigned yet, and the Focus/Escape triplets because they have the next gen buttons. If Ford can reverse this trend and get common parts under the skin and unique styles on the exterior/interior, it would go a long way to differentiating the brands. I worry that they will go too far, though, and like GM produce entirely different cars on the same platform that all suck G6/Malibu et al…

    I would be happier if the Ford product planners resolved the weird omissions on several cars: no stability control on Fusion/500, HID headlights on MKZ but not on MKX etc.

  • avatar

    Just a data point….

    I’ve never had a bad job since entering the pharmaceutical industry. Everywhere I’ve worked (Wyeth, Schering Plough, Novartis) was a well paid job with a pleasant atmosphere. And you know what? EVERYONE in top management is technical, mostly chemical engineers (like me) with a smattering of pharmacists and biology majors. Nobody gets to the top ranks without a technical degree, except for in a few ancillary departments like HR and legal. Even most of the sales and marketing people have technical training. I wonder what that tells you.

    My guess: Bean counters should never have the final say in a company that actually manufactures products. Let them run investment firms; in manufacturing industries, they should strictly be limited to a service / staff role. Our industry is dominated by engineers and pharmacists and practically every one of the large pharma companies is swimming in money.

  • avatar

    The problem lies more with conflicting incentives–you can’t get one group to be motivated with technical excellence while the other group (in charge) is motivated by cost cutting. You just need someone in charge to reconcile the two

    Yet another layer of management? And the background of the Reconciler would be?

    A technical person can cost cut. In fact the most competent Engineers select the best methods and materials and then figure out how to manufacture at a lower cost. A tech person can cost cut but a bean counter cant engineer.

  • avatar
    Captain Tungsten


    Another datapoint. The fine folks at Pfizer in Ann
    Arbor may not agree with you this morning…

  • avatar

    I am engineer working in the aerospace arena (specifically, satellite / space industry) for the past 10 years. I can say that the problems discussed in the article are absolutely similar to the types we deal with on a daily basis. The difference with us is we are basically burning the taxpayers’ money on problems that do not get solved and merely repeat almost like clockwork. Our management has an arrogant attitude that never changes; the same incompetent people are put in charge of projects over and over again.

    Our acrimonious relationships with suppliers have caused us several project delays, failures, setbacks… you name it.

    Auto industry, you are not alone.

  • avatar

    i think both this article and some of the responses are world-class. never has automotive journalism been better.

    and to those who complain that there is no mitsubishi death watch: certainly there would be one if TTAC had people who knew about MMC. the same applies to possible PSA or Fiat death watches. I am sure Farago is open for applications.

  • avatar

    Luther: The dash of the next-gen Accord will be quite a bit different than the current one, but beyond that I really can’t go into detail. My focus is on the drivetrain, so the passing glances I’ve had of the interior bits really weren’t something I paid a lot of attention to – sorry. However, I’ve brought up the digital speedo in the Civic to the Honda reps – I hate digital gauges in cars – and when I bring it up they sort of mumble and look the other way. I’m not sure if that means that they realize it was a mistake, or if it means that they’re already planning to do it to the Accord. From what I understand they’ve gotten a lot of criticism for it with the Civic, so I’d be a little surprised if they did it again with the Accord…they’re usually pretty good about listening to customers. Plus, the Accord is usually marketed to a more mature audience – who are probably less likely to be impressed with the whole Jetson/spaceship design school.

    Lichtronamo: Yes, the parts are designed to a price – and Honda is willing to pay more than GM, Ford, or DCX. Since engineers frequently move between engineering teams, often the same engineers may be involved in both the Ford and Honda products…but Honda is willing to pay for quality and is willing to work with us, while Ford wants everything as cheap as possible and constantly beats us up over price. I have no doubt that Ford has excellent engineers – some of our best engineers came from Ford – but unfortunately the beancounters are the ones in control. The one advantage Ford has is that they have some genuine auto enthusiasts working for them – and there aren’t many working for Honda or Toyota. When Ford loosens the reins on their engineers is when they’re at their best (SVT is a good example of this).

    oboylepr: Right on the money – and Ford is just as bad as GM, if not a little worse. It has gotten so bad that our president declared that we would no longer bid on any Ford contracts – because we never make any money on them. We do make money on GM, but through slightly deceptive methods. Basically, when we come up with a design we are already looking at alternative methods and materials to decrease cost – and while we quote with the higher-priced assembly, we switch to the lower-cost method after a year or so. We tell GM about the changes, and give them perhaps half the cost savings and keep the other half – this way they’re happy, and we actually get to make a profit. While GM lets us keep part of the cost savings, Ford generally seems to want all of it…which is not very bright, as it gives us very little reason to look for any. GM also pays quite a bit (probably more than they should) for our initial prototype and pre-launch parts, which is another source of income.

    To be fair, there are only a couple of suppliers capable of making the products we make, and our parts are in more than 50% of the cars sold in the US – so we have a little bit more power than most suppliers when dealing with the OEMs. However, Ford (and GM to a lesser extent) still treat us like crap, so I’d hate to think of how poorly they’d treat the average stamping or plastic molding shop. They know that they can’t duplicate our process at another supplier, so that gives us at least a limited amount of control…and if they knew that they could pull their tools out and transfer them to another supplier, they’d be even more ruthless.

    Another good example of Ford’s relationship with suppliers is the 6L diesel engine problems they’ve had with their pickups. Many of the problems Ford had with that engine didn’t exist in International’s version, the VT365 – partly because Ford insisted on using some of their own components, including writing their own engine control software. So, with a large percentage of the problems caused by Ford’s interference, what is the solution? Apparently, to sue International. So, basically Ford tries to make a good product into a bad product, and if they’re successful then they sue the supplier for making a bad product.

    So, Ford manages to taint the relationship with both their customers and one of their largest suppliers in one fell swoop….good job, Ford!

  • avatar

    powerpeecee, re: leaky steering rack. That rack and nearly all Ford steering gears are sourced to the company formerly known as Visteon (the highest cost option).

    To the point of this article, it is absolutely true this is the end result of Ford’s product development process. Look at the front frame/suspension/brakes/steering of the last gen Expedition/Navigator and current F-150 and see if you can tell that they aren’t common. However, it isn’t that Ford doesn’t continually try to commonize parts and fasteners. This wasn’t the case during Nasser when suppliers were given “Full Service” subsystem design responsibility, but since there has been a concerted effort to commonize many components.

    Unfortunately the organization and mentality of the company always causes commonization to break down. For example, commonizing components may save money overall but if it adds money to any one program’s budget it will be ruthlessly fought. Or if this commonization drives a distinctly different process to any one final assembly plant it will be shot down. Or the out of control, change control process will be unable to prevent changes from being driven to the component on individual programs. In short, there are plenty of people within the organization that understand this problem and are capable of solving it, but management does not have the discipline to drive such change.

  • avatar

    Great post LK. I purchased my first Asian branded product in 2001, Honda Accord assembled in Ohio. My product experiences now biases me towards Honda products; I can never again take irrational chances with my hard earned money on D2.5 products. My future new car purchases are going to be Accord derivatives: Honda Accord, Acura TL, Acura TSX (European Accord). But if they mess up the Accord with a digital dashboard (I am old school – gimme round gauges!) then I will abandon Honda.

    If Honda wants to do the spaceship enterprise thing then they can do it with the Fit, a car small enough to be marketed exclusively to the teeny boppers and twenty somethings. The digital Civic was a blunder, but a digital Accord would be a disaster.

  • avatar

    Great post LK.

    Indeed. Thanks for the insight LK.

    The digital Civic was a blunder, but a digital Accord would be a disaster.

    Yup. It makes sense that the Accord will not be digital since it is for a more mature consumer. I think Honda still has sense.

    Remember the Explorer/Bridgestone Tit-for-Tat (Tat being overrated. AhrAhr)? Ford recommended a lower tire pressure than Bridgestone speced for the reason of better roll-over resistance. The tires then failed due to heat buildup. Granted, Bridgestone should have engineered a high factor of safety but Ford should have NEVER recommended out-of-spec PSI. Ford acted like a big spin baby with that situation.

  • avatar

    The Ford attitude toward its suppliers is endemic and not only in the auto industry, and these suppliers are browbeaten that way to the extent it’s difficult to engage them in dialogue.

    Recently I had to design a part for a video display. The first iteration of the part was ugly and not manufacturable. I sent the print to a couple of suppliers and said “look, here’s what this part does and here’s its envelope, you can make a better part than this, what do you think?”

    Both suppliers quoted the part on the print. I asked them why and they said they were tired of thinking of better ways to do things when no one listens to them. This happens all the time. A few suppliers I’ve been dealing with for years actually believe they won’t waste their time cooking up good ideas and therefore they help me a lot; this makes me look like a better engineer than I am.

    Multiply rotten relationships and suspicious attitudes by hundreds of thousands, and you begin to wonder whether a significant fraction of American industrial capacity is wasted due to nothing more than bad manners and arrogance.

  • avatar

    Owned a first-gen Taurus. I know about value engineering.

    The A/C system on the 3.0 V-6 was notorious. When mine broke, I called around to a few shops. Before I could even describe the problem, they all said, “3.0 V-6, right? I love Ford. They all break. They used cheap hose clamps that always fail. It’ll cost about $1,000 to fix it right. Yeah, Ford knows, and they still build ’em that way ’cause it’s cheap.”

    Because of this and all the other problems (power steering opump, brake master, tranny seals, main seals, etc.,) we’ll never buy another Ford.

    Ask me about me Honda products.

    1991 Acura Integra: 187K miles, no problems, still on the original clutch when it was stolen.

    1997 Honda CR-V: Not a single problem. 125K and you can’t kill the darn car. Unstoppable.

    2001 Acura TL: Not a single issue, except for the rearview mirror auto-dimming quit. They’ve had tranny issues, but mine’s OK. 65K miles and rolling.

  • avatar

    I’m not exclusive to either foreign or domestic, but with the past few domestic cars which include a Ford Probe, Escort, and the V6 and V8 explorer, as well as a Chevy Silverado and Blazer, I’ve never had any major problems with them, save for the perpetually bad transmission in the Probe. No parts falling off, no miscellaneous gremlins, no catastrophic failures. I should add that due to the nature of my job these vehicles get lots of miles on them, to the tune of 40,000 miles per year. Outside of collision repairs and maintenance items like new tires, I can’t recall a single major repair I had to do with any of these vehicles. I really have to wonder what you guys are doing to your cars to make them fall apart as soon as you drive them off of the dealer’s lot.

  • avatar

    Great, insightful article on the ugly inner workings….please write more!

  • avatar
    Bob Elton


    Ther won’t be any links to an outside story ’cause the story aint out there. I lived this one.

    It’s a TTAC exclusive.


  • avatar

    Speaking of part suppliers…..

  • avatar

    Okay, thanks, Bob.

    I was hoping for something that I could cite to friends and family who play the part of Doubting Thomas.

  • avatar

    The reason the D 2.5 are circling the drain is not hard to get one’s head around. Lichtronamo nailed it (above) :

    …”the Mary Walton book Car cronicalling the development of the 1996 Taurus had a chapter talking about Ford’s evaluation of the then new and benchmark 1992 Camry. As soon as they could, Ford got a hold of a new Camry, tore it apart and estimated it cost $3000 more to build than their budget for the Taurus. ”

    If true, that differential is what has led to the situation today. Toyonda has been buying market share by providing more product for similar (or even more) money. Rather than try to re-engineer the core product to get cost down and value up, Detroit has been playing a losing game of “almost as good” for waaaaay too long.

    Back in 1999 I had an experience while helping a car buddy move some cars around. As part of that process I drove a ’95 4 cyl. Accord and a ’96 DOHC V6 Taurus back-to-back, both with 75 K miles on them as luck would have it. The Honda felt more like 25K and the Ford felt like 175K. It was that jarring a difference. That Taurus has long since been scrapped and the Accord is still running, 290K mi on the original drivetrain. The American public knows this. Detroit is doomed, and when the post mortem is concluded, the cause of death will be declared “suicide.”

  • avatar

    “I just read that GM uses 12 different V6 engines”

    Let’s see:

    2.8 turbo
    3.4 Chinese
    3.8 supercharged
    4.2 I6

    They also have a 3.7L I5 and offer a 3.5L V6 from Honda in the Saturn Vue.

  • avatar

    willbodine: the reason why the Taurus feels like it has so many more miles on it than it does is because I think, in order to save money, they made the transmissions out of wooden tinker toys and rubber bands. :)

    That and the strut mounts that go bad on every one of them and clunk every time you go over a bump.

    As long as we’re talking about V6 Engines, I have to say, I like the Vulcan, it may be a cast iron OHV cave man of an engine, but it does it’s job without complaint,

    To wit: Auh Auh Toooorque Auh Auh! *grunt*

    Another fun Ford Issue:

    Just make sure you have the heater core bypass hose installed (the coolant line runs from the rear cylinder head, directly into the heater core, and then back, there’s a TSB for this somewhere, they install a bridge hose between the to and from lines,

    Everyone who i’ve ever seen who complains about the vulcan and head gaskets has not had this done. and the vulcan blows headgaskets because the heater core clogs and there is then zero coolant flow. The heater core clogs up because people never change the coolant, and the cast iron engine fills the heater core (and the radiator) with rusty sludgy crap after about 60k with no coolant changes.

    Vulcans are notorious for turning the coolant brown, I think this is because Ford takes no measures to ensure the coolant channels inside the vulcan block and heads are in any way rustproofed (if this is possible, I don’t know)

  • avatar

    I believe it was my Grandma who had a windshield wiper break on a Lincoln some decades ago. She looked up the part number, went into the Ford/Merc/Linc dealer, and requested the part by number. The dealer looked it up and asked if it was for a Ford or a Lincoln. “Why?”
    “Because if it’s for a Lincoln, I have to charge you more.”
    Guess what she said….

    Re: digital instruments:
    Chevy put digital instrumentation in the Corvette in the ’80s (like several manufacturers did). The critics griped, and so the next redesign saw analog instruments again and posterity recorded digital as a failure. Chevy, however, was acting against the advice of owner surveys, which showed that drivers overwhelmingly preferred a digital dashboard.

    Re: Tauruses:
    We thought our ’94 Taurus was a good deal for $1800, even though it needed a couple hundred in maintenance. To make several very long stories short, in about 3 years, we’ve put well more than the purchase price into it in radiators, thermostats, brakes, (yes, all plural) a water pump, a belt, etc. On top of which, I still live with numerous “quirks,” bumps, noises, a leak or two, and I’m just waiting on that blown head gasket.
    In conclusion, I will never again buy a domestic car from before the turn of the century, especially a Ford.

  • avatar

    My employer is an electronics manufacturer that’s been in the business for about 30 years. Most of the people who have been there for a very long time are so damned stubborned and lazy that any new ideas- even if the cost savings is obvious – are greated with contempt. I’m sure that the previously big 2.5 have the same problems.

  • avatar

    Common parts are excellent and a great cost saver until one thing. They break, and then you have a MASSIVE recall and the company looks like an ass. If you use the same door latch in every car, and there is a recall (OEMs fault or supplier it doesnt matter) then you have a recall of a couple million vehicles, that is why some companies are reluctant to commonize.

  • avatar

    Common parts are excellent and a great cost saver until one thing. They break, and then you have a MASSIVE recall and the company looks like an ass. If you use the same door latch in every car, and there is a recall (OEMs fault or supplier it doesnt matter) then you have a recall of a couple million vehicles, that is why some companies are reluctant to commonize.

    If you put all the resource together and increase the budget, the chances will be lower. But if you commonize 12 design and give it only 1x the budget, then you are asking for it.

  • avatar

    I find this article very interesting, but I’m concerned about one thing–it doesn’t cite any sources. The firm/supplier that Ford allegedly shooed off isn’t even named in this article.

    Now, I know journalists protect their sources and all that, but this article really comes off as a “story”, which in all fairness, it does state itself as in the heading.

    It seems to me that for the kind of negativity this article seeks to impart about Ford’s decisions, you’d need to have some documentation or sources to really back it up. I want to be able to point and shake my head, but as it stands it just comes off as allegory.

  • avatar

    The author of this article stated earlier in the comments section where he got his information from (apparently he was there to see it happen). See his entire post below:

    Bob Elton:
    January 23rd, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    There won’t be any links to an outside story ’cause the story aint out there. I lived this one.

    It’s a TTAC exclusive.

  • avatar

    The day after this appeared on TTAC, this showed up on the Forbes web site.

  • avatar

    Just spotted this:

    Ford posts record loss of US$12.7 billion in 2006


  • avatar

    windswords–thanks for pointing that out–I missed it when i skimmed the comments and now I’ve gone back and read Elton’s comments, which helped a lot.

    It’s still worth noting that these kinds of articles seem to need a “references” or “bibiliography” section or at least some kind of back-story. It would add legitimacy.

  • avatar

    Also, the fact that Bob Elton “lived it” also makes his bias questionable. It’s easy to spin stories in whatever direction you want, but then that’s the nature of an editorial. I have no doubt in my mind that these kinds of stories could be legitimate, but without more data, it has to be taken for what it is.

  • avatar


    Point taken. I’d love to have been able to set a bunch of reporters onto this story– as the AP did after our story appeared (

    You have to understand that TTAC is operating on a shoe string.

  • avatar

    I believe the issue with the Chevy engines in the Buicks is that GM pretended they were Buick engines.


  • avatar

    …by golly it IS amazing anything gets done. when systems are inefficient, the sheer gumption/dedication/chutzpah of a few ‘single point failures’ that lead from the middle and motivate the most critical tasks to completion by focusing other’s attention and resources on them.

    it’s a waste. it’s a pain, and it’s inefficient. but that is actually how every employer i’ve encountered has actually worked.

  • avatar

    I interviewed 10+ years ago for a car sales position with a multi-brand (mostly import) dealership. The guy running the interviews (and hiring) was smart consultant who opened my eyes to the import / domestic gap regarding quality, marketing, % of vehicles sold to rental fleets, discounting, etc. He quoted some depressing number for the domestic makes – and he drove a 5 speed Camry.

    He even had some harsh words for Honda – stories regarding the kickback $$$ that some dealers paid to get more Civics and Accords in the 80’s.

    Marketing and customers for the big 2.5 are completely different than the imports. The domestics have been focusing on ‘the deal’ and not ‘the car’ for so long that it’s ingrained in their culture and seeped into their parts purchasing.

    Thought Experiment: You’re a recently graduated engineer and car buff. Who do you go to work for?

  • avatar
    Bob Elton

    Well, eslai can believe the story or not. The reason there aren’t names in the story (except for Ford) is because I’m an engineer in this business first, and a writer second.

    I do have some credentials in seats that are public record. My 2 papers delivered at SAE for starters. And about half of my 2 dozen patents are seat-related.

    And, of course, eslai can sit in an older Lincoln Town Car and run the seat back and forth, feeling the vibrations through his butt, as did thousand of unhappy oln owners. Or he can drive alone ina Ranger truck, and listen to the empty passenger’s seat rattle in its tracks. He could lay on the floor of the current F150 and look at the feet on the seat track. I could go on.


  • avatar

    Can’t say much about Japanese cars (never owned one), but in my family over the last 10 years we’ve had quite a few Fords. Let’s compare.

    1. 1985 Ford Tempo, bought used – no major problems, after 5 years of ownership got dented in a parking lot and insurance wrote it off as total loss.
    2. 1995 Ford Explorer – still running. Did have to replace the engine this year, but that was my own fault (when you see an oil leak, do not try to drive to the nearest dealership because it is only 2 miles away :)
    3. 2000 Ford Focus – still running, no major issues.
    4. 1999 Mercury Cougar – sold that one after 2 years, no problems.
    5. 2001 Volvo S60 – 92K, no major problems
    5. 2001 Mercedes C-class. Cracked engine block at 35K. Multiple electrical problems. Has been in the shop more often than all Fords combined.
    6. 2003 Audi A6. Just did 60K service and had to replace cam seals, secondary air pump and swaybar mountings – $3300 total.

    Make your own conclusions.

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