May 2008

Speedy product development is Ford's goal

Ford Motor Co. is reorganizing its design and engineering centers in a move to make the company more global while speeding vehicle development.

The engineering centers, located in different regions throughout the world, would be responsible for development of such components as engines and chassis. Ford will also assemble joint product-development and purchasing teams around the world with responsibility for the company's core engineering and purchasing functions.

The expansion of the engineering centers mirrors an effort by Chrysler LLC and underscores how the automakers, which generate the bulk of their sales in the U.S., are pushing for a more global view throughout the organizations.

Under the plan, North America teams will be responsible for electrical and body engineering for vehicles worldwide, as well as select powertrains such as V-6 and V-8 engines, hybrids, and automatic transmissions.

European teams will be responsible for chassis engineering and certain powertrains, including four-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines, and manual transmissions. Asia Pacific and Africa engineering and purchasing resources will integrate into Ford's global core engineering and purchasing groups in Europe and the Americas.

The three U.S. auto manufacturers are each engaged in wide-reaching restructuring programs aimed at restoring profitability. The companies have cut costs significantly in recent years, but they continue to struggle amid a sharp downturn in U.S. sales as consumer concerns rise about the economy and high fuel prices. The ongoing financial challenges have put a premium on improving the efficiency of global operations.

Chrysler wants to open engineering and development centers throughout the world, including in countries such as China and India. The centers would draw on design talents in that region and filter ideas through the company.

General Motors Corp. has already established and begun using a similar model. The designing of GM's Buick Riviera coupe concept vehicle, displayed at the North America International Auto Show in Detroit in January, took place in China.

Designers there will continue to work with North American counterparts on future vehicle design and engineering.