In many ways, Peter Bejin, North America Craftsmanship Supervisor, has one of the most challenging jobs you could imagine. He translates perception into measurements. His team defines craftsmanship at Ford and puts it on the same goal list as fuel economy and safety performance. He takes a subjective topic and makes it objective.
The all-new 2011 Ford Explorer is the latest vehicle where you’ll be able to see the results from Peter’s team. We spent an early morning with Peter to ask him exactly what craftsmanship means as at Ford, and what you can expect to see in current and future Ford vehicles.
theFordStory: What exactly is craftsmanship, relating to vehicles?
Peter: At Ford, we define craftsmanship as tight fits, the right content and high-quality appearance. We treat craftsmanship as an attribute, much in the same way that address wind noise, ergonomics, fuel economy and ride dynamics.
Craftsmanship for a lot of people and companies is bit fuzzy. In most cases, there isn’t a holistic look and not necessarily numbers that define it. Without numbers, or metrics, it’s hard to engineer world class products. We developed tools and systems to measure craftsmanship. For example, when we talk about fits, content and potential issues, we know what we are talking about, what the customer likes based on research, as well as where are competitors and the market stands.
Give us an example; how do you measure fits?
When we talk about fits, we are talking about the margin, or gap between two parts. For example, from the front door to the rear door we know what the best margin in world is based on measuring our competitors. We then work with the engineering teams to deliver world-class fits and execute across the board on all our vehicles.
Can you define fits, the right content and high-quality appearance?
We talked about fits between the doors above. We apply the same process to every interface on the vehicle for both the exterior and interior. There are about four to five hundred interfaces where we set targets based on benchmarking the best in the world.
High-quality appearance means not having exposed fasteners or visible parting lines. Parts should feel robust and well engineered.
The right content is making sure we have components that look and feel refined. Beautiful finish panels, padding in key areas and close out panels in high impact areas. If we don’t have the right materials, we can’t deliver world-class craftsmanship. A chef can’t make a great meal without great ingredients.
At what point in the development of a new vehicle are craftsmanship goals set?
Craftsmanship is established way up front in the process. The design team is an important part of the craftsmanship team. We also work engineering to ensure there is a common understanding of expectations.
What are the most significant things that people notice when they first get into a car?
In the showroom, touch points are critical. Areas such as the door handle, grab handle, steering wheel and shifter. People sit in the seat and look at the instrument panel, steering wheel and center console; they touch the steering wheel and shifter. We pay attention to all of the things you touch and look at in a showroom and during a test drive. Even details like how the trunk opens and closes and not having exposed seat tracks are important factors in craftsmanship. Often people will think, “this is really nice,” even if they don’t know why. It’s our job to know why.
What about after they own a car for a few months? What are the lasting satisfaction points of craftsmanship?
In the first few weeks and months of owning a new car, people get further into the details of it. They use the glove box and center console. In these areas, we hide all of the fasteners for a high-quality appearance and smooth feel. As they dive deeper into the ownership experience, we want to them to be continuously surprised at how well thought-out the car is.
What are some of the most difficult aspects of craftsmanship to deliver in a vehicle?
I believe the biggest challenge is to deliver the design theme and craftsmanship hand-in-hand. Designers are very forward-thinking and progressive. Some of the designs make it very challenging to execute. But that’s what engineers do: They solve problems and overcome challenges. What we don’t want to do is compromise the design in order to deliver craftsmanship. We have processes in place, and the right culture at Ford to work together and deliver outstanding designs and craftsmanship together.
Is there something that Ford is doing with regards to craftsmanship that no other car maker is doing?
I believe one of the key differences is the One Ford strategy. The craftsmanship process is global. Therefore, for any product in the world, our customers are going to get the same level of perceived quality and craftsmanship. One example of the One Ford strategy applied to craftsmanship is the touch experience. It is something I believe we do very well. It’s a combination of understanding the measurements and what the customer wants globally. You need both. Throwing a lot of content at a car without executing properly reduces the potential impact to perceived quality. This will affect the customer’s impression in the first 90 days. The global process also drives for tight fits and high-quality appearance. We want them to be continuously surprised with our craftsmanship as they dive deeper into their ownership experience.
How does your team know what really matters to customers?
We ask them. We do marketing studies. We also benchmark our competitors on touch and fit. We know how good or bad other cars are in every segment. We use all of this data and input to drive our goals. There are thousands of details on a car that give you the impression of quality.
Has there been a culture change inside of Ford that has elevated the importance of craftsmanship in its vehicles?
Definitely. Excellence is now a formalized process. It used to be top down. Now we’re all on the same page. The engineers go to executives with ideas on how to make it better. One of the things that created this scenario is treating craftsmanship as an attribute. Most engineers work on things they are measured on, such as fuel economy or driving dynamics. When you make craftsmanship a measurable attribute, it drives the behaviors.
Do you draw on any influences outside of the automotive industry?
We do look at other industries for craftsmanship attributes. For example, we had an offsite going to different fine-furniture stores to better understand what a world-class home experience is like. We then used this experience to drive our metrics such as softness, smoothness and other factors to make sure our customers get a second home on wheels experience with our products.
When people get to sit inside the 2011 Ford Explorer, what craftsmanship attributes did you hope that they will notice?
First I’d like them to notice the overall design. It’s a highly refined exciting design. From a craftsmanship standpoint, look at the tight fits on the exterior. How crisp everything is and how well the parts fit. When they open the door, I want them to notice the quality of content. The soft instrument panel, refined steering wheel feel…every detail of the car. I believe it will stand out against anything else they may be considering.