As Ford Director of Quality for the Americas, Graydon Reitz fields questions about quality every day. In fact, he lives it nearly 24/7. It’s what he has done for the last 3 ½ years out of the 27 total that he has worked for Ford. So it was no big deal to him when we asked for 30 minutes to talk about current quality successes and challenges at the company.
theFordStory: Three Ford models ranked highest within their respective segments in J.D. Power and Associates 2010 Initial Quality StudySM: Ford Focus, Mustang and Taurus. What changes at Ford are driving these quality study results?
Graydon: These are basically the results from the plan we’ve been working on for the last four years to provide the absolute highest quality for customers. There’s no company ahead of us that produces the full line: Cars, crossovers, SUVs, small trucks, large trucks and vans. Not one.
We’ve jumped year-over-year in quality based on three elements: Current-model, forward-model and launch-model quality processes.
Improvements in current-model quality mean continuous changes. Design and manufacturing changes are made every day. The vehicles we produce this week are of higher-quality than the vehicles we made last week.
With our forward-model quality process, we start benchmarking systems such as heating, air conditioning, and powertrain roughly three years ahead of production. We make sure we include the right content in our future products to make them outstanding when they come to market.
Finally, our launch process is very regimented and disciplined. We won’t let vehicles go to market unless we’re satisfied.
Can you give us a couple of specific examples?
Let’s take a powertrain noise. It may not be a huge annoyance, but if it will distract the customer, we will wait until we have a solution to eliminate the noise.
Here’s a more specific example. With the Fiesta, we upgraded the heating and the air conditioning system prior to introduction in North America. These changes will flow back into Fiesta for the European and Asia Pacific markets. This goes back to the One Ford philosophy.
What are the key topics for you in terms of quality?
There are really two elements. First is eliminating potential issues. Noise, vibration, harshness, buzz, squeaks and rattles, or not being able to clear the windshield. These annoy the customer, and that’s bad.
The other element of quality is to surprise and delight the customer. Outstanding fuel economy really satisfies the customer. Other available features, such as SYNC®, good performance and braking thrill the customer.
What is one area of major quality improvements in the last few years?
We’ve put the right powertrain in the vehicles. The powertrain team has really made an effort to achieve strong performance and high fuel economy. New available technology, such as EcoBoost™, is a key example of the powertrain upgrades.
What is the Ford goal regarding quality, and how far along the path to achieving this goal is the team?
Quality is a continuous goal for Ford. We want to be number one in quality. Specifically, our goal is to have Ford and Lincoln brand as number one and two in the top quality surveys. With each new model we introduce, we expect to make a step up in quality. Look at the new Focus and Taurus. These are not tiny refinements in quality, but significant steps. You’ll see the same thing when the new Explorer launches.
How have you seen the culture change at Ford in the last five years to drive these improvements in quality?
The culture of quality at Ford is outstanding. We have good leadership and they keep reinforcing the need for improved quality. We continue to put the right content into the vehicles and invest in the assembly plants. These are real actions that employees can see. There is a lot of passion from everyone involved in developing and assembling the vehicles.
Quality is really the ultimate team sport. We have an outstanding relationship with the UAW. We also collaborate with the dealer body, because they identify quality issues that they’re not happy with. They are an agent for the customer.
How have the consumers’ expectations of quality changed over the last five years?
It’s one of the key purchase motivators for potential customers. If they have a sense that the brand is not high quality, they’ll eliminate it from consideration. We’re seeing market share growth which indicates that we’re on more consideration lists now.
How has the competitive landscape changed over the same period?
It is still very, very competitive. The other companies also recognize that it’s a key element of entry into this business. The key for Ford is to keep the rate of quality improvements at a higher level than competitors.
We’ve been talking about Ford and Lincoln to this point, but are there any additional challenges and expectations for Lincoln?
Yes. We were disappointed with the performance of Lincoln. We put together a very detailed plan to make improvements. You’re seeing results now and you’ll see more in the future.
Continuing to execute the plan with rigor. We need to accelerate progress. The teamwork and collaboration is crucial. We’re getting outstanding support from all of the organizations that are part of Ford.
Additional information about Ford and the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 Initial Quality Study
The Ford Focus, Ford Mustang and Ford Taurus each received the lowest number of problems per 100 vehicles among compact, midsize sporty and large cars, respectively, in the proprietary J.D. Power and Associates 2010 Initial Quality StudySM. Study based on responses from 82,095 new-vehicle owners, measuring 236 models and measures opinions after 90 days of ownership. Proprietary study results are based on experiences and perceptions of owners surveyed in February-May 2010. Your experiences may vary. Visit jdpower.com.