Ford Motor Co. wants its key suppliers to help benchmark vehicles and parts at other carmakers up to 40 months before it launches new models. According to Hau Thai-Tang, Ford's group vice president of global purchasing, the carmaker has implemented its new benchmarking program twice in 2013 for the next-generation Fiesta and Focus.
The benchmarking exercise entails picking a few key components for tear-downs. For instance, the Fiesta exercise involved selecting HVAC systems from three rival models.
Thai-Tang told Automotive News in an interview that Ford asked suppliers tear down the parts of rival models and then scrutinize the design. The suppliers were also asked to tell Ford which designs were most efficient, and how much they can build it for.
He said that the program would allow Ford to get early input from suppliers that would enable the carmaker to design components that are best-in-class, meaning they would be lighter and less expensive, yet more reliable.
Thai-Tang noted that participating suppliers have proved more likely to accept Ford's design targets. Ford as well as other carmakers are facing increasing pressure to trim costs while adding connectivity features, improving fuel economy and enhancing safety – all of which means extra expenses.
For Thai-Tang, the greatest opportunity to cut costs does not come after the benchmarking process, but during. He disclosed that the benchmarking program will be expanded to include other vehicles as they are redesigned.
When benchmarking other vehicles, Ford also will target other components for analysis since anything they could learn from the HVAC tear-down could apply to heating and cooling systems in other units. Thai-Tang remarked that aside from tearing down HVAC systems, suppliers also analyzed fuel systems, electrical distribution systems, instrument panels and seats.
He added that Ford will also invite suppliers in the benchmarking process even if they don't have the production contract for a certain component. He said that participating suppliers have learned from the process, which allows them to gauge their performance against their rivals in terms of scrappage rates, defects and labor costs. [source: automotive news - sub. required]