Quality Magazine

From the Publisher: Real Quality Change Is Needed

March 1, 2007

Can lasting improvement come about as a result of quick and readily apparent changes, or does it only come about as a result of well thought-out and substantive decisions? Many professionals find themselves in such challenging positions within their companies. Such is the struggle for Ford Motor Co. as it tries to revive sagging North American sales and a correct a perception of poorly made domestic brand vehicles.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally announced in a “bold move” that he is bringing back the recently discontinued Ford Taurus as part of his strategy to reinvigorate Ford sales. The Taurus, which was launched in 1985, and was a long-time staple of rental fleets and businessmen, was shelved last October.

But Mulally’s move has had critics shaking their heads and consumers unimpressed at best. Rather than invest in the substantive engineering that made the Taurus a welcome addition to the company 20 years ago, Ford will simply rename the failing Ford 500 as the Taurus. No other change is planned for the 500, which saw sales slide from 108,000 in 2005 to 84,000 in 2006. The 500 is built on a Volvo frame, so there is some underpinning engineering and quality that will transfer to the new Taurus, but this does not seem to reassure consumers. A recent scan of the blogs after this announcement shows an overwhelming amount of consumers still critical of Ford quality.

Ford and Mulally have a struggle ahead of them if they are to convince skeptical auto buyers to return to Ford. While the company has improved its quality, it is still battling the perception of poor quality that resulted from years of neglect of its car lines. Mulally needs to be even more daring.

Hyundai Motor Co. showed the world it was serious about quality when it became the first car manufacturer to offer a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty as standard. The company went from producing cars that needed frequent repairs to one that recently finished in the top three of non-luxury cars for J.D. Power. And while this is not the only measure of success in quality, it is a significant enough achievement to most consumers that it must be taken seriously by automakers looking to capture market share.

If Mulally wants a truly “bold move,” he’ll not only make the quick and readily apparent move of returning the Taurus name, but make the substantive changes in engineering and quality that will return Ford to a company known for quality automobiles.

Can Mulally accomplish such a feat? He has a chance at it. He comes from the Boeing Co., an organization that improved quality and engineering, while reducing costs when faced by serious competition from Airbus. The threat to Ford is named Toyota.

On another note, Neal Lorenzi joins Quality Magazine as senior editor. Neal has an extensive background in business publishing, and his accomplishments include receiving the Best Case Study award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for a case study on Boeing’s aircraft assembly plant. He can be reached at lorenzin@bnpmedia.com.