Is Ford trying to convince potential buyers that their quality is good, or are they trying to convince themselves? Lets take a look at how Ford achieved quality that “cannot be beaten by Honda or Toyota.”

Before we do that, lets look at how Ford came to be known as “Fix Or Repair Daily.” Ford is probably the most notorious of the Big Three for defective quality. They had massive quality recalls, including cars that blew up on rear end impact (Pintos) and paid survivors hefty sums of money to keep quiet (Wall Street Journal). They had the largest recall in automotive history because of defective transmissions that killed over 200 and injured 1400. Only action by President Reagan saved Ford from bankruptcy on this massive recall (23,000,000 defective Fords). More recently they had defective ignition switches that caused Fords to catch fire, and many of those law suits are still in the courts, including a lady in Texas who watched her son and his girl friend get burned alive in a Lincoln. That case will be heard next March.

So how did Ford achieve “quality that cannot be beat by Honda or Toyota?” They didn’t. What they did do was try for 35 years to improve their image by advertising. If you hear or see something enough times, you will believe it. When they realized that the company might not survive because of decades of building shoddy cars, they made an effort to improve quality. Lets take a look at that.

First, they paid Toyota consultants to advise them on how to improve quality. But when the Toyota people looked at the Ford production system, they concluded that quality could not be improved, nor could productivity, unless Ford completely overhauled the way they did business. Then Ford hired Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Dr. Deming was a mathemetician who became known as “the father of quality.” He worked with Toyota, GE, IBM, and other corporate giants to advise them on how to improve, and maintain, a high level of quality. But Dr. Deming was unable to work with Ford.

He stated that Ford top management was the worst that he had ever seen. They were distrustful, conniving, and made up of competing cliques that fought each other. In one rancorous meeting, at Ford headquarters, it almost came to blows. Every suggestion made by Dr. Deming was opposed by one or another of the management cliques, fearing changes that would reduce their power in the organization. Dr. Deming visited various Ford plants, where he found embedded hostility, distrust, and a virtual war between management and the UAW. In frustration Dr. Deming gathered up his stuff and walked out, stating that the Ford system was a relic of the past that could not and would not change.

So how has Ford achieved quality that “cannot be beat by Honda or Toyota.”  They hired Allan Mulally. Mr. Mulally immediately realized that if Ford did not change, immediately and drastically, it would not survive. He started to make changes, from the top down. He forced the company to build better quality. And, finally, after years and years, Ford has matched the quality of the imports. This is good, and I hope that it continues. But being an ex Ford supervisor, I have my doubts.

The economy will improve, and so will Ford sales. And then, if the past is repeated, Ford will go right back to its “get the numbers” mentality. Their high quality rating will slip back down below Toyota and Honda. I have seen this movie before. During the terrible 1974-75 recession, when I was a supervisor at the Sharonville Transmission Plant, Ford cracked down hard on quality. For about a year and a half we produced top quality transmissions. But then sales went crazy, and Ford could not keep up with demand, so they ditched all their quality rules and made whatever transmissions they had to make to reach production quotas. That is when Ford made the deadly transmissions that killed and injured, and received the largest recall in automotive history.

I hope that I am wrong. But I don’t think so. Ford sales are headed up, because of customers stolen from GM and Chrysler, both of which are headed for the ash bin of auto history. The data shows that Ford did not succeed in pulling many customers from Toyota and Honda. My best guess is that when economic recovery takes hold, and sales skyrocket, Ford will be like an alcoholic that falls off the wagong, and will go back to producing the same junk that gave birth to the slogan Ford = F ix  O r  R epair  D aily.

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