Ford Whips out the Big Guns
By Blake Muntzinger
No one knows better than the Ford staff that the sales market is rough. While first half of 2008 set a sales record in Europe, July sales stateside fell 15 percent from last year. But Ford’s not standing still; it’s defending itself. Ford invited the media to the Dearborn Development Center for the 2009 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury Model Year Drive. It provided the media with information regarding its manufacturing processes, new powertrains and engines, and technologies that customers will see sooner than later, proving that with the changing, greener times, Ford will be there setting the trend.
Digital manufacturing has enabled Ford to go head-to-head with the best in the industry. Designing products right the first time – without design or worker ergonomics issues – saves money. Several years before a vehicle is built, engineers assess the manufacturing process of their workers in a virtual factory. Sensors are placed on a worker who then is asked to assemble a virtual part. The system checks for proper hand clearance to ensure the worker won’t be injured, helps predict the worker’s posture, and evaluates the muscles to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.
If the workers are safe and healthy, quality will be high and while labor costs remain low. This type of manufacturing has already yielded good results. It’s helped Ford lower its warranty repair costs by 50 percent since 2004, saving the company $1.2 billion in 18 months. In fact, Ford’s 2005 models have a 59 percent lower repair rate than 2004 models.
While fuel economy seems to be a new, but permanent, fad for American consumers, performance has always been ingrained in the American psyche in one form or another. Ford found a way to combine the best of the two into one quite wicked package: EcoBoost.
EcoBoost is a family of four and six-cylinder motors using turbocharged direct-injection technology for 20 percent better fuel economy while releasing 15 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions. Lincoln’s MKS will be the first receive the engine – a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 generating 340 hp – in 2009; the Ford Flex will follow. On the track, the MKS already impressed with its responsive 3.7-liter DOHC Duratec V-6 with 273 horses. But with 340 hp and a smaller displacement, the MKS will be a force to reckon with. By 2013, EcoBoost will be incorporated into 90 percent of the lineup, including the new “redefined” Explorer with fuel numbers described only as “jaw-dropping”.
EcoBoost wasn’t the only thing Ford was boasting about. A new generation of fuel-saving six-speed transmissions is poised to replace Ford’s current four and five-speed offerings. Eighty-five percent of Ford’s products will receive six-speed transmissions by 2010, a number jumping to 98 percent by 2012. The new gearboxes combine an automatic transmission’s convenience with a manual transmission’s fuel economy. The new F-150, along with Ford’s Escape and Mercury’s Mariner, will get this transmission yielding one mile per gallon increases.
The Escape and Mariner continue to be improved upon from last year’s redesign. They both get a 171 hp, 2.5-liter I-4 engine – an output increase of 11 percent – that eliminates 1.7 seconds on its 0-60 mph acceleration. With 28 mpg, its highway mileage rating is higher than the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V. The Hybrid models will also use the same motor, delivering 34 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway – the most fuel-efficient SUVs on the market.
As the market gears itself up for more economical vehicles, overlooking the truck market is easier to do. But Ford continues its innovation with its fleet of commercial vehicles. In 2009, Ford’s E-Series vans, F-150 XL, STX, XLT, and FX4 trucks will feature Ford Work Solutions. It focuses on four key areas to help business owners be more productive and save money.
The first component is Tool Link, which enables owners to keep real-time inventory of equipment stored in the vehicle. Crew Chief is next, which allows small fleet owners to manage their vehicles, keep maintenance records, and send workers to job sites. The Cable Lock secures equipment to the cargo area. The most money-saving feature will likely be the in-dash computer with an available wireless mouse and printer, effectively turning the driver’s seat into a desk chair. Invoices can be printed on the spot without having to drive to the office, saving fuel and money. When the Transit Connect joins the lineup in 2009, it will offer all Work Solutions applications except the Cable Lock feature.
Blind spots are arguably one of the most unsettling parts of driving. Ford’s Edge will be the first vehicle on the market to work on curing that problem with the Blind Spot Mirror. Inspired by its fleet of heavy duty trucks, the side mirror contains a second mirror on the upper right corner. The tiny square on the mirror’s corner doesn’t look too effective, but it does increase rear visibility while driving. The mirror will eventually be incorporated into every Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln vehicle.
From a technological standpoint, Ford is making its presence known. Already on the market is SYNC, a voice-activated communication and entertainment system co-developed by Ford and Mircosoft. And on the market soon, Ford recently announced a new feature arriving later this year called 911 Assist. Active when a mobile phone is connected to SYNC, 911 Assist calls 911 emergency services when it senses an accident has occurred. If the driver of the vehicle determines this isn’t the case, a 10-second window of time is provided to cancel the call. If it’s not canceled, emergency personnel will be notified. 911 Assist will be offered with no monthly fees to current and future SYNC owners.
Also attributed to SYNC is the Vehicle Health Report (VHR), which, once initiated, collects a vehicle’s diagnostic data and sends it to Ford. An online report is created containing updates on information, such as recalls, scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, and recommended actions. Owners will receive an SMS or e-mail message on the status of their vehicle’s major electronic systems free of charge.
SIRIUS Travel Link provides a plethora of real-time data to occupants ranging from nationwide weather updates including five-day forecasts, accident reports, the closest cinema and the featured films, fuel price information for over 120,000 stations, and the closest Starbucks for that Iced Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha. Owners can also upload photos via CD into the computer. As with SYNC, it’s voice-activated and the screen is easy to navigate.
Ford proved today that it saw the signs, and while it’s taken slightly longer than hoped to understand them completely, Ford’s taken heed and is charging forward. This is definitely not the same Ford consumers saw four years ago; Ford will evolve again in the next four years too. It suffering from an SUV hangover now, but its European models and EcoBoost infused into the North American lineup will help prove that this Ford is and will be a new Ford – One Ford, focusing more on its core self rather than the periphery.
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