Ford pushes for higher quality image

The US automaker is betting that the tight bond between two of its senior executives can help the automaker prevent quality missteps from derailing its busiest-ever year for launching new vehicles.

At stake are Ford’s credibility and profitability as it embarks on an ambitious plan to introduce 23 new vehicles – the most in one year in company history – around the world this year.

Joe Hinrichs, head of North and South American operations, and Raj Nair, Ford’s global product development chief, are two of the key players in what has been an all-out push to stamp out problems that have dogged the automaker in the last few years.

“We have a lot more new product and a lot more new launches than we used to have,” Hinrichs said in interview on the sidelines of the auto show. “We know how important these launches are.”

In the last few years, Ford has tumbled in key reliability surveys due to problems with its touch-screen dashboard system and some of its transmissions. It conducted seven recalls of its Escape crossover since its mid-2012 launch, which may have led to warranty costs of as much as $300 million in 2013.

As part of the redoubling of Ford’s effort to prevent quality woes, Hinrichs and Nair are drawing on their experience working together in North America and Asia for the last dozen years.

Ford’s woes largely stem from the fact that it is launching more new vehicles at a faster clip than in years past, in keeping with a broader trend in the industry, analysts and executives said.

In some cases, that has led to unresolved glitches that make features like the MyFord Touch entertainment and navigation system tough to operate, according to Consumer Reports magazine and consultant J.D. Power & Associates.

The faster pace evokes a broader trend. Since the 2009 economic downturn, major automakers have been launching new models with fewer factories and a smaller supply base, elevating the risk of quality problems in the future.

But as part of its effort, Ford is now spending more time conducting research before green-lighting a vehicle design. This has lengthened the time it takes Ford to develop a new product, but should ensure the product is top-notch.

Via Reuters