By Rhoda Miel, Plastics News staff
Detroit, Michigan -- Ford Motor Co. says its upcoming Focus compact-car redesign represents a new era for the company and its global car strategy.
That strategy takes in everything from manufacturing and purchasing to new interior materials. Hard plastic trim, standard in most inexpensive cars in the past, will give way to soft-touch instrument panels and a higher-end look on door trim when the new Focus begins production late this year.
"The car definitely plays a specific role in the [small-car] segment in terms of craftsmanship and materials," said Stefan Lamm, Ford's exterior design director of product development in Europe.
The Dearborn, Michigan-based carmaker even brought up highlights of the new interior strategy during its 11 Jan introduction of the Focus at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Ford cited the instrument panel as a key element of the future vehicle.
Ford has not released a price for the new Focus, but past models sold for less than $20 000. At that price level, interiors were relatively stripped down. Traditionally, soft-touch dashboards and doors, which require three different layers -- foam sandwiched between structural hard plastic and a thermoplastic skin -- were considered too expensive to produce in lower-priced cars. However, plastics suppliers have developed new, automated ways to inject foam, bringing costs down.
Ford has been "looking at cost savings wisely," said International Automotive Components North America llc's Dave Krivan. "As they drive cost down overall, they might be paying more for soft touch, but they take cost out where the consumer isn't affected," said Krivan, who is IAC's vice president for Ford commercial and sales operations
Auto supplier IAC, also based in Dearborn, already makes a variety of parts for Ford's small and midsize vehicles. Although Krivan could not discuss specific future programmes, he said Ford has been very active with suppliers in looking at ways to improve the fit and feel of future cars.
"We're bringing quite a bit of technology to them," he said.
With the new Focus, Ford developed a new global manufacturing base that includes buying parts from a limited number of global suppliers. The automaker says 80 percent of Focus' parts are the same worldwide. That means Ford and those suppliers could make up to 2 million vehicles annually by 2012.
"The efficiencies generated by our global platform will enable us to provide customers with an affordable product offering quality, fuel efficiency, safety and technology beyond their expectations," said Ford president and ceo Alan Mulally.
Sheer volume alone will not necessarily reduce costs, but it will make an impact on those suppliers selected to make parts for global platforms, Krivan said.
The Focus is not the only Ford vehicle getting an interior upgrade. Its lower-cost sister vehicle, the Fiesta -- which goes on sale in the US in mid-2010 -- also has a soft instrument panel.
By emphasising materials and accents like the soft touch, Ford wants to appeal to customers who will recognise the difference in comparison to its competitors, Lamm said.