Can Design save US based Auto companies?

Not on its own. As much as product manages love to blame slow sales on design, it rarely ever is the entire story.

That is what I was thinking when I checked out the new spy shots of the upcoming Ford Taurus. Arguably one of the most important product launches from the healthiest of the Broke (er’ Big?) 3… Looks like a nice car. The design is tidy and well detailed. It also looks very Japanese. I wonder if the conversations were had in the studio debating whether to go all American looking (like the Chrysler 300) or to go head to head with Accord and Camry with similar looking products. To be fair, those product probably benchmarked the Taurus of yore.

http://www.autoweek.com/article/20081219/FREE/812199991

The other product that caught my eye is the Ford F150 works solution:

“Ford Works Solutions caters to the kinds of commercial builders and workmen who will buy trucks no matter what state the economy is in because of one simple fact: they need them. Its four main features – Internet access with limited Office functionality, Tool Link, Crew Chief, and Cable Lock – are meant to not only help owners and workers look after their trucks, but also look after the tools necessary to do their jobs. As usual, that kind of convenience is going to cost you.”


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I believe design can help but as you say, not entirely.

With regard to the F-150, I doubt that the majority of new truck buyers will opt for those new convenience features. I’d say they’re a little late to the game with those. Since those features add so much to the cost of the truck, the only people who are going to buy them, are the people who will hardly use those features. Do you think a contractor will actually use internet connectivity based out of his truck? I doubt it. He/She will probably use a Sprint or Verizon card that their company provides. All the other things like pull down steps and storage boxes, are probably not designed for every day contractor grade use. Companies like Knaak have that truckbed-accessory market cornered.

The taurus looks nice, and does look very similar to a Camry. My wish for Detroit is for them to pare down their models, even if they keep all the marques. Do you really need so many of the same model? But, we’ve already discussed this in the “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” thread.

Having a bit of recent personal experience in the work truck category I have a few thoughts on the Ford Work Solution.

Background: Although I operated big yellow things, my primary duty for the past twenty-two months was that of an HDR; Heavy Duty Repairman. I have been responsible for the maintenance, parts ordering, and repair of everything from big scrapers, bulldozers, motor graders, all-terrain equipment handlers, ten and eighteen-wheelers, diesel powered light plants, the owner’s Tahoe, a fleet of sixteen pickup trucks, eight “utility” trucks, six water trucks, two crane trucks (all of various marque and engine type), a bunch of Honda generators, walk-behind vibratory compactors, the list is seemingly endless.

If Work Solutions is primarily aimed at individual small contractors, or supervisory personal with larger companies it may be successful. However, if Ford is looking for a niche in the much larger “fleet” category I do not believe they are going to do too well.

The difference in usage, and the way the two conduct work is vastly different.


• An in-dash computer developed with Magneti Marelli and powered by Microsoft Auto that provides full high-speed Internet access via the Sprint Mobile Broadband Network and navigation by Garmin. It’s the first broadband-capable in-dash computer in production. This system allows customers to print invoices, check inventories and access documents stored on their home or office computer networks – right on the job site.

As the company’s primary mechanic, I can say that an on-board computer would have made it easier to order spares; most equipment requires that the serial number and/or VIN be supplied; electronic access to the part numbers of hundreds of “consumable” components would have sped up ordering. Internet access would have been useful for sourcing as well. GPS would have been helpful on the few road trips we took, but on a daily basis not so much. A laptop would have been sufficient but my employer could not, or would not, rationalize the expense and would not supply one when requested (management theory vs. field experience) . For the average crew truck this would be useless.


• Tool Link, a Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) asset tracking system developed in partnership with DEWALT, the industry leader in professional power tools, and ThingMagic, the industry expert on embedded RFID technology. This enables customers to maintain a detailed real-time inventory of the tools or equipment stored in the pickup box.
On any given ten-hour shift, I’ve had so many different pieces of equipment on my work truck that I do not see how it could, on a practical basis, all be electronically inventoried; nor do I see a reason that it should be. Practically speaking, there is simply not enough time in the day to worry about it; a tool, or piece of equipment, is either there, or it isn’t. If is not on the truck, where is it? Who used it last? Where do I look to find it, or another to replace it? The on-board is not going to be able to tell you that. On a large crew the “Lead” supervises the collection of necessary tools for a given project based on the nature of the work, and his experience.


• Crew Chief, a fleet telematics and diagnostics system, which allows small fleet owners to efficiently manage their vehicles, quickly dispatch workers to job sites and keep detailed vehicle maintenance records.

A partially useful concept. I was issued a Nextel radio for communications. It worked well, was rugged, and fit into my safety vest pocket. All of the “Lead” personnel were equipped with one as well, much to my unending misery.

The abuse that most construction company equipment is subjected to is incredible. “Laborers” are the main users of these pickup and utility trucks, and to be frank, usually could not care less about what they are assigned to drive. Most do not drive the same vehicle every day and personal accountability for reporting equipment problems is hit and miss; e.g. driving off without checking oil, tire pressures, turn signals, etc. is the norm.

An on-board computer would be of assistance in maintaining some form of schedule for oil changes, oil, fuel, and air filter part numbers and such, and other routine maintenance. But from a daily maintenance point of view, the truck either has enough oil and coolant, or it doesn’t. A tire is flat or it isn’t. Hard to believe, but leaving the yard with a partially flat tire happened on a daily basis, and running out of fuel happened at less once a week. Nothing a computer is going to notify you of.


• Cable Lock security system developed in partnership with Master Lock®, the industry-leading lock manufacturer, to discourage theft of expensive tools too large to fit in the cab.

Why?

Most small contractors that I know would not leave their equipment exposed on the truck to begin with. In large companies having equipment “locked up” in any given truck, or place, prevents it from being used by anyone, at any time; I’ve been called many times to cut a padlock off of a box truck so that a piece of equipment could be retrieved; a cable hahahhaha… . . if “they” want it, they are going to take it.

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From a practical standpoint, large companies are looking for basics;

Common fuel usage; preferably diesel (it’s is less hazardous to store and handle, and therefore reduces insurance liability; one fuel type for all equipment (on or off road) is readily available). Given the California Air Resource Board requirements this will become prohibitively expensive.

Heavy Duty suspension; a Half-Ton pickup is essentially worthless; 10 bags of concrete mix, plus the weight of the mixer on the bumper hitch and it’s bottomed out. The pickup trucks the company purchased were either 3/4 or 1 ton models. The ability to pull a trailer is essential.

Minimal equipment; it is a work truck and on large jobs is generally not used for much highway driving; it sits in the yard when not in use, or is driven to the work site and parked all day. AM-FM radio, no A/C, vinyl upholstery, removable rubber floor mats, and crank up windows are more durable, reduce cost and ease maintenance.

My brief of a “Professional Grade” truck would be a single model of 15,000# GVW, powered by either gasoline or bio-fuel-capable diesel of one common displacement per engine type; automatic transmission (eliminates clutch abuse, and gearbox wear); 2 or 4 wheel drive; have a basic interior as outlined above; and be available with, or without the bed (there are hundreds of custom fabricators that supply utility-boxes, flatbeds, and van boxes; they are much better equipped to supply these items than GM is.)

One-size fits all? You bet. The user can make it into what is needed, not what Ford thinks is needed.

What worries me about the Taurus is this car:

Obviously there will be a family resemblance. However, the Taurus seems to to have a rear end copied from a Honda Civic (why?). Also, the proportions are changed. The Taurus looks heavier and thicker. What I can make out from the front seems to be softened. It’s like a Mondeo, but less sporty…more boring.

Why am I worried? Because I don’t think people can be enticed back to Ford/GM/Chrysler by boring product. I think the success of the Fusion showed that. It was a car that was as good as an Accord or Camry, but better looking. And the Fusion was dynamic. That very high trunk, the large chrome grille, looking for all the world like a throw back to a '60’s Lincoln. Sure, there were elements that were timid, but overall, it was a exciting car for mid-size family car. Will the new Taurus be the same way?

Now that’s a nice looking product. Where is that in the US lineup? Oh, its not. Great. Why is it that all the Ford/GM products outside the US are the desirable models? Why haven’t they figured it out, that they should bring them all here? If this were the new taurus, they’d have a home run for sure.

Americans like cool cars too? Breaking news people.

undisguised from a few months ago;)

Front end looks pretty nice in that cameraphone pic.

Autoblog.com showed the new Chevy Equinox. I think it looks pretty damn nice. Especially considering the old Equinx was already one of their best looking vehicles. If this goes against the VX Tiguan, I think this wins from a pure product design standpoint.

http://www.seriouswheels.com/cars/2009/top-2009-BMW-M3-ALMS-Race-Car.htm

I feel that good looking vehicles, with well though out solutions for every aspect. and a high level of craftsmanship will save them.

I believe that dumb choices, poor quality, and designs that arrived several years too late contributed greatly to the current state that the big 3 are in.

If this is the Taurus, it’s pretty nice!

“We’ll bring you more info as it becomes available, until then take a peek at the illustrations we commissioned from KORSdesign.”

Isn’t that like fabricating a story? KORSDesign do, according to their website, “speculative illustration and design”- on what that speculation is based, they don’t say… Seeing as that’s their business, at least they could make the front end look a bit less Photoshopped. Looks like a next gen Hyundai (not necessarily a bad thing, but no patch on the Mondeo).

Yeah this model is alot more exciting than previous models… Though i want the focus RS. I think that will get me out of my Civic.

Yeah this model is alot more exciting than previous models… Though i want the focus RS. I think that will get me out of my Civic. The the asking price is 40K!

As far automotive design I dont think it can save them now. Itll take what… 4 years to role out a new model? Unless they tease us with uber cool concepts with an actual promise of producing them. Ive seen some great proposals from current GM designers and I never understood why they never ran with the ideas these great young designers have.

i want the focus RS. I think that will get me out of my Civic.

You betcha!

Does anyone know the corporate philosophy behind NOT importing the RS to the States? It does not directly compete with anything else in the “performance” category of vehicles Ford sells; the MazdaSpeed3, the RX8, or the Mustang. The Volvo C30, perhaps?

Considering their “leadership” status among the Big3, why do you think they are not exploiting the Focus RS in the US? I’d buy one in a heartbeat.

A few things stop the RS from being imported:

  1. they didn’t bother engineering the Euro Focus for the US. They would need to tweak some stuff for US standards.

  2. Detroit guys want a piece of the action. For sure, the euro Focus would have to be focus grouped into another design for “US taste”. ugh.

  3. The old RS didn’t make money in Europe, despite being a minor hit. It’s ludicrously expensive to build and the volumes are tiny.

the euro Focus would have to be focus grouped into another design for “US taste”. ugh.

ugh, for sure. The dimwits do not realize that there is a market for this machine in the States the way it is (understood that it would have to be adjusted to American regs).

The volume may be tiny, in Europe. I would bet that it would sell more of them here alone, than it currently manufactures for Euro consumption. The Focus and the Escort (US version) owners-community is avid to an almost cult level here.

What a shame. Ford is it’s own worst enemy.

I think that the “new taurus” is a mondeo and it is in the Casino Royal 007 flick.

Design can’t save them, but it can certainly kill them if neglected. I don’t think they can afford to not do it well anymore.

On top of that they need not only to improve their build quality (which they have on many models, but not all), but fight an uphill battle against public opinion. They need to drastically alter the way people view their product in terms of reliability and reputation, and prove to the consumer that it’s safe to buy a vehicle from what is widely known as a failing company. Right now, many people aren’t willing to bet new-car amounts of money if the company behind the vehicle may be gone in a few months–“who will cover my warranty? What happens to my financing? Who will make spare parts? What if there’s a defect, but no one to issue a recall?”