Ford Motor Company adopted the slogan “Quality is Job 1” in 1981. But quality, like the automaker employees in charge of designing, building, and guaranteeing it, goes through highs and lows. Since taking the helm in October 2020, CEO Jim Farley’s been on a crusade to address build issues that predate his tenure as well as the billions in warranty costs those issues create. The last few years have continued to provide challenging lows, including Ford ending 2022 with more recalls than any automaker selling vehicles in the U.S. During a Q&A period at Ford’s annual shareholder meeting last week, Farley and Ford Chairman Bill Ford took questions submitted online about current difficulties and decisions the two men are making.
The second question asked (at 34:10) was, “Quality has been an issue for the past two years. What steps have been taken to address this issue?” Farley answered with, “For our management team, quality is our number one priority. And our overall quality today is improving. However, we’re still not at the world-class levels that, not only our customers expect, but, more importantly, what we expect out of ourselves. We are starting to see our initial quality improve markedly in North America. We’re taking a range of actions, as you would expect, to eliminate any defects in the first place. And we are totally focused on finding and fixing issues that do come up. The way we portray this inside the company is, we always want to put quality first because that’s the most fundamental commitment to our customers, and our customers, we want to treat like family. It requires a lot of end-to-end changes, from our supply chain, our manufacturing and engineering system, to the way we test, and also the way we find root cause and solve that across all the different disciplines in the industrial system.”
Then he used the new Super Duty to provide an example of what those range of actions looks like. Prototypes are driven for more real-world road miles, and the number of trucks put through towing tests has been tripled. Additional checks happen on the assembly lines at both factories building the Super Duty, and AI-powered tech monitors “to catch quality issues that aren’t visible to the human eye.” Every day, workers take 100 trucks off the line for “a 25-mile pre-delivery shakedown” to “scrutinize [their] performance as a customer might.” More than 28,000 Super Duty trucks have endured the challenge so far.
Farley finished the question by stating, “Simply put, you are not going to see us launch product until it meets or exceeds the highest quality standards that we’ve ever had. This is what we’re doing for all vehicles, like we’re going through now for (the new) Mustang and other upcoming exciting products.”
Quality improvements take a long time to fix and a long time to prove — big recalls for models 10 years old or more aren’t usual now. Farley said as much last year when telling ex-Ford engineers, “Fixing quality is my number one priority … It is the most important initiative in the whole company. And it’s going to take several years.” We won’t know the value of all these big words for a while, but we hope Farley is proved right.
On a brighter note, Farley and Ford answered questions on topics ranging from Maverick production woes to hydrogen vehicles and why the company doesn’t build a challenger for the Chevrolet Corvette. In response to that last, Ford said, “Are you kidding? We have the Mustang, which I think is by far the best sports car. … It’s affordable. It’s faster than all get-out. It’s about as good as you could possibly get.”