By on April 19, 2008

2009-ford-flex-interior-dash-front-row.jpgTTAC is an industry watchdog. We balance the cheerleading and spinmongery performed by the majority of the automotive media. As publisher, I don't feel an obligation to temper "bad" news with "good." That said, since we began this cybernetic journey, readers have upbraided us for failing to run the occasional positive story (as in any). While I don't consider fulfilling this request part of our core remit, a particularly testy email from Ford flackmeister Alan Hall got me thinking. Perhaps it is time to feature the odd ray of sunshine– other than positive car reviews (which come when they come). So when I received a press release about, of all things, Ford seats, I decided to dig a little deeper. Sure enough, FoMoCo has ditched the complexity chronicled by Bob Elton in Ford Death Watch 23, moving from 28 seat assemblies to two, from "here ya go" subcontracting to a partnership. So I called Jerry Brown, Ford's Chief Engineer for Seats and Restraints, to explore the possibility of a sea change behind the scenes. Better seats and reduced engineering complexity won't save Ford, but let's call it Reasons to Be Cheerful Part 1. 

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18 Comments on “Ford Gets It Right: From 28 Seat Assemblies to 2...”


  • avatar
    jthorner

    I’ve been saying for some time that Ford gets my vote at the member of the 2.8 most likely to succeed. They are getting the engineering right, finally, getting the brand proliferation right and are moving towards a much more global way of doing business than GM.

    In this past go-round Ford demonstrated that they don’t know anything about managing European luxury brands, so at least they wised up and stopped digging; as the old story about what to do when you find yourself in a hole goes.

    As a customer, seats matter to me a lot. I’m middle aged and often make 6-12 hour road trips. Seat comfort and quality are critical to me.

  • avatar
    seabrjim

    This wont get the positive press that fords toyota rivaling quality will, but its a step in the right direction. Cant see ford producing commercials for the prime time NHL playoffs touting the new seat tracks. Chrysler has nothing but cheap, thirsty and ugly. GM has nothing but delusional management, completely lost in a sea of ineptitude and bureaucracy. Ford actually has a CEO who has a chance for a turnaround.

  • avatar

    Thermal butt management?

    Good for Ford, I agree with Jthorner’s view on Ford, but to fix a problem you must first acknowledge the problem exists.

    Ford acknowledged that their former top management needed to be changed. GM has never done this. It all starts at the top.

  • avatar

    There’s light at the end of the tunnel afterall!

    Or not.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    Wow. Serious props to Ford.

    And jthorner, I agree with you 100%. Ford is having a tough time in the market just like GM is, but I think Ford is by far in the best shape in terms of products and the fact that they “get it.”

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    As it stands now I would definitely say, perhaps. Ford does have good leadership at the top. But they will have the oldest product line-up in North America until 2011 and their ‘fuel efficient’ offerings are going to be near the back of the pack.

  • avatar

    Now if they could just learn a few things about how to package a product.

  • avatar

    At least Ford doesn’t have eight pointless brands to nurse. On the other hand, they still have two pointless brands aside from their own they are nursing.

  • avatar
    umterp85

    Steven Lang: Ford’s lineup should be mostly turned by 2009 (model year 2010). I also have to disagree with you on the small car thing. If the new Focus and Fiesta live up to the promise…Fords small car lineup looks more that competitive to me.

  • avatar
    lprocter1982

    As others have said, Ford’s largely got it right, or at least, righter, now than the other Not So Big Anymore 3. However, Ford’s still about a decade away from actually succeeding, simply because many, many people are still driving Ford’s not so good offerings, and still suffering from Ford’s not so great long term reliability of their 90’s products. I know my dad will never buy a newer Ford, since he’s had a 94 Aerostar (the transmission blew up) and currently has a 97 Crown Vic (who’s transmission is the only thing that hasn’t blown up yet.) Both are very high mileage vehicles, but they are/were unreliable money pits. Unfortunately, too many other customers have had similar experiences (sudden fires, spark plugs relocating, cracked intake manifolds, etc., etc.)

    So, once Ford’s current vehicles reach 300,000 miles reliably and with a minimum of serious problems, then Ford’s got a chance. Customers don’t remember how reliable a car is when new – they remember how reliable it was when it got old.

  • avatar
    Verbal

    @ lproctor1982: I agree with what you’re saying about long term reliability being key to Ford’s turnaround, only less so. 300k miles with minimal problems is a stretch for any vehicle.

    Still, Ford needs to look beyond the warranty period when designing for durability. People are more likely to keep a new car well past 100k miles now than they’ve ever been. Anecdotally, I hear of (and have personal experience with) cars that sail through their warranty period with almost no problems. Then when the warranty expires, the problems start coming in waves. The underlying thinking seems to be: make the parts just good enough and cheap enough to last through the warranty, and not much longer.

    As already noted above, it is going to take Ford a good ten years to re-establish customer trust and goodwill on the reliability front.

  • avatar
    offroadinfrontier

    @ Verbal

    I think your post hit the nail on the head. While plenty of vehicles still fail under warranty for reasons a modern car shouldn’t, seeing, reading, and hearing about post-warranty breakdowns is insane. My biggest complaint is interior quality:

    reading an import manufacturers service manual (will remain nameless); My vehicle’s 1987 Factory Service Manual lists everything from minor maintenance to major overhaul on just about everything under the book. My ’87 has ONE squeak in the back, and that’s from a part that I myself broke. Compare this to a new higher-end model’s service manual, which has an ENTIRE CHAPTER on fixing squeaks and rattles.. The chapter is non-specific, but does teach how to fix every sort of possible squeak/rattle, usually in ways that could be fixed at home with some foam and a zip tie.

    My point is that these vehicles come from the factory with EXPECTED interior issues. They come from the factory with parts that are known to be noisy and not up-to-par, so instead of adding a few hundred to each model and building quality interiors, as they used to, they throw cheap plastic everywhere and say “screw it.” Too many customers deal with the squeaks and rattles, and driving a used vehicle that’s just barely out of warranty shows this.

    What bothers me the most; if the interior is in such a shape, what about the rest of the vehicle? Again, my 22 year old car has OEM everything save from shocks/springs, a few rubber bushings, ball joints, 2nd tire replacement, 1st alternator & starter replacement, 1st replacement set of rotors, and 1st replacement set of pads – all replaced within the last 3 years. That’s pretty impressive wear/tear. As anyone on this board knows, searching online shows a scary amount of brand new vehicles with major suspension issues, transmission woes, engine components going kaput, electronic nightmares (yes, my 87 has elec. windows, locks, auto ac, etc., all working), etc.

    Personally, I think that 300K miles might be a long shot as well. But, I firmly believe that a brand new, 20-40K vehicle, should be able to last at least 100K or 10 years without issue (excluding maintenance, within reason). Plenty of past models that were taken care of show that it is very possible to do, and I’m not talking about old luxury cars. It’s a sad day when you can find a 20 year old used car with less squeaks/rattles and repair needs than the 6 year old car right beside it.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    offroadinfrontier, you win the post of the weekend. That is EXACTLY the problem I have with many so-called modern vehicles.

    The average vehicle made today can easily last twenty years (and longer) with proper care, quality components, and a reasonable driving style.

    But there were quite a few vehicles back in the late 1980’s that can lay the exact claim same. Heck, I’ve got a house a few doors from me that has a late-80’s Escort and Tempo on their driveway… and I’ve seen more than my share of old daily drivers around the roads of metro-Atlanta. Just like nearly any other city.

    The question is not whether a car can endure. It’s whether a given model can last AND be a pleasure to drive and own. That’s one of the many reasons shy I still see more than my share of mid-80’s T-Birds or Mark VII on the road while an Escort or even a Taurus from the same era is an all too rare site.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    Although, I kind of hate to admit it, the big dumb ugly Ford Taurus, Mercury Sable and Lincoln MKS are all better cars than the Chevrolet Impala/Pontiac Grand Prix/Buick LaCrosse and even the Buick Lucerne. They’re also better than the 6-cylinder Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger, while getting better gas mileage than the V-8 powered ones. If they can just do something about the styling.

    The Fusion/Milan/MKZ manage to remain competitive, I wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen in one (like the Sebring/Avenger) but they don’t seem like anything special.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    It’s been many years since I purchase a new Ford product, but I can say that our 2003 Accord and 2006 TSX have had more minor squeaks and rattles at a young age than I find acceptable than did that long lost Taurus. Unfortunately said Taurus suffered from premature clear coat failure, like many did in the 1980s.

    Nearly every car is put together these days with plastic snap fitments all over the place and lots of plastic parts. These are all potential annoying noise sources and they don’t age well.

    Today I helped a buddy repair a door holding mechanism bracket on a 1999 Volvo. When we got it opened up we discovered that the dealer had already done one hatchet job repair before he bought it for his daughter as a two year old “certified used” car which supposedly had been a service loaner. The original engineering of that bracket was horrible (they pretty much have a 100% failure rate) and the dealer repair was a POS. The body panel sheet metal used is so thin as to be almost unbelieveable. I’ve seen soup cans made with heavier stuff than Volvo used for that section inside the door jamb.

    Lots and lots of cost cutting compromises are being made in the design and manufacturing of modern vehicles. Much like modern consumer electronics, they are built as disposable commodities with a particular nominal lifetime after which they are expected to be junked.

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    Verbal:
    300k miles with minimal problems is a stretch for any vehicle.

    Not the Ford Panther platform…that’s why Ford wants to kill the so bad…they last too long…and none of them have that ugly three-bar grille.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    This is waaay past due. Ford has always had crappy seats, I’ve broken many, some in the same car. They just don’t last. And they’re not that comfortable. When I moved to VW it was a revelation on how good the seats were. Comfortable, well made and nothing has broken on either edition.
    Ford should be taking notes.
    With my experiences with Ford they always seemed to do things with BS engineering. If you can’t make it strong, make it thick; if it’s going to break, make it cheap and have lots of spares on hand. One reason I don’t drive Fords anymore.

  • avatar
    kericf

    Ford is one brand away from getting back on track. If they could somehow cut Mercury out of the mix, they would have a great balance of brands.

    Ford – Trucks, SUVs and cheap everyday cars
    Mazda – Performance BrandSmall foreign cars
    Volvo – Safe, euro-luxury
    Lincoln – US big luxuryBlingmobiles

    There are some great platforms that have come from Mazda and Volvo, and as long as Ford doesn’t try to interfere too much in keeping the divisions separate and out of badge engineered hell, they do a good job of standing on their own. Something many GM brands can’t say.

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