Long troubled by consumers who questioned its ability to build dependable vehicles, Ford Motor Co. pledged that small cars due to arrive in a few years will have substantially fewer problems during their first three months on the road than models from other auto makers.
The Dearborn, Mich., company promised at a conference in Traverse City Mich., Monday that its new compact and subcompact vehicles -- due out in 2010 -- will beat the industry average when it comes to quality.
The auto maker will keep the number of quality problems -- known in the industry as "things gone wrong" -- at 800 per 1,000 vehicles, which would be well below the industry average, Ford Vice President of Global Quality Bennie Fowler said.
Things gone wrong" encompass a range of consumer complaints, including actual failures such as features that don't work properly to things owners just don't like, such as wind noise.
In 2007, Ford reported 1,058 problems per 1,000 small cars, while the industry average was 1,512.
Ford, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC have markedly improved the quality of their vehicles after years of lagging behind foreign competitors including Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. But many consumers still doubt the quality of Detroit's models, leaving a gap between their actual performance and the public's perception of the vehicles.
"Ford has to build vehicles that not only have quality, but give the perception of quality," Laurie Harbour-Felax, an automotive industry consultant, said on the sidelines of the Management Briefing Seminars, an annual gathering organized by the Center for Automotive Research.
To improve quality, Ford is employing an "army" of quality-trained hourly workers to spot problems before a vehicle makes it to the showroom. Workers are taking quality-control classes at a college in Detroit and seeing strictly enforced standards on the factory floor.
Ford is also using new virtual-reality tools that can identify quality problems before a car is built, Mr. Fowler said. "As a result of our virtual technology, we've cut time-to-market by eight to 14 months," he said.
In another reflection of the new direction Ford is taking, the new study of relations between auto makers and their suppliers showed Ford made steady gains this year.
The annual Working Relations Study conducted by Planning Perspectives Inc., of Birmingham, Mich., reported that suppliers prefer working with Ford more than its cross-town rivals GM and Chrysler. GM was the least preferred.
Ford, however, still lags far behind Toyota and Honda, both of whom are ranked equally as the most preferred auto maker manufacturing in North America.
Ford Vice President of Global Purchasing Tony Brown said the auto maker has reduced its supply base to a core of strong performers and has vowed to give those companies more contracts. The move eases volatility issues for the suppliers, allowing them to concentrate on controlling costs and operating production more efficiently.
"We meet regularly with the CEOs of these companies and allow them to look under the tent a little more often," Mr. Brown said. "We are encouraged with this progress