Ford is changing the way it builds vehicles

Ford is a 115-year-old company and has changed much over the years. The car maker seems ready to change again.

Today, Ford gathered several hundred journalists in a theater deep in its Dearborn, MI development center. The building is surrounded by engineering labs and test facilities. A Ford proving ground is across the street, the HQ is down the road and the parking lot overlooks The Henry Ford Museum. We were in Ford country.

During the briefing, half of which was on the record and half of which was off, the company laid out its product strategy, including revealing never-before-seen concepts (that was the off-the-record part). CEO Jim Hackett sat in front of the journalists and laid out the company’s evolving plan since he took over for Mark Fields, which includes embracing a shorter development cycle to partnerships with foreign auto makers.

Ford is moving away from talking about vehicle platforms. Traditionally, automakers build vehicle platforms, which can support several different models. Some platforms underpin everything from small sedans to SUVs. By talking about platforms, automakers can show their flexibility by building more than one model on top of similar parts. Going forward, Ford intends on building off different vehicle architectures.

This is a small, but important change in language and methodology, which Ford says will cut development time from sketch to showroom by 20 percent.

There will be five flexible vehicle architectures: body-on-frame, front-wheel-drive unibody, rear-wheel-
drive unibody, commercial van unibody and BEV. These will be paired with electric or internal combustion packages to complete the configurations.

Ford said today it’s aiming to deliver $4 billion in engineering efficiencies and this approach will go a long way in achieving that goal. Auto makers have always shared parts and engines and structures across vehicles, but this approach seems to set up Ford with more flexibility, which should result in more unique models, including the Ford Explorer ST shown above.