Thursday, February 24, 2005

 

Ford GT Recalls

Ford's GT supercar now has a total of seven recalls or service campaigns to its name; not good for a car that has a total sales volume of, um, about 110 to date. The latest seems to be an issue with the rear main seal. While this is, shall we say, not an uncommon issue, it's also a bit disappointing on a brand-new car that costs $150,000. Usually, if you want a vehicle that expensive to leak oil all over the place, you need to buy something Italian. I'm wondering if this isn't somehow related to the dry-sump oiling system, which I believe is unique to this vehicle in the Ford world.

Of course, there was the well-publicized issue with the control arms. It turns out that the problem was related to the selection of an unusual production process:

One source at Ford blamed the recall on quality problems at Citation. The supplier is restructuring under Chapter 11 of federal bankruptcy law.

But Ford selected an unseasoned manufacturing process from the start.

Suppliers are still working out kinks in the semisolid casting technology used for the original part, automotive metal industry sources say.

Ford touted the original process as a technological advancement when it unveiled the production GT in June 2003. It was the first time that Ford used semisolid casting for a control arm, the company says.

In the process, aluminum is heated to just below its melting point. At the consistency of butter, it is injected into a mold at high pressure. The resulting part has "the complexity of form associated with casting while retaining the strength of forging," Ford said at the time.

Interesting stuff. Not surprisingly, this issue has degrading into "blame the supplier", where as we can only assume that in reality the burden should be shared somewhat.

I think Ford deserves some credit for trying out this new manufacturing process on a low-volume high-performance application; better here than on a mainstream product where the financial impact of a failure would be much greater.

But on the other hand, it's a bit disappointing that this vehicle is experiencing so many problems. Surely, some or all of this can be attributed to the extremely short development cycle. Considering the lack of urgency placed on this project by market demands (supercar buyers tend to be patient types; just look at the folks who twiddled their thumbs for over a decade waiting for the Vector W8), it would have been nice to see Ford take, perhaps, another 6 or 12 months to really flesh this thing out. If, in the end, Ford develops a world-class development path based on their experience here, then I think the payoff will be many times greater than the cost of their mistakes on the GT. But if this whole saga scares them off, damage will be done that's much worse than it appears right now.

And while we're talking about recalls, I don't think I've made mention yet of the Focus recall involving door-latch corrosion. This, hot on the heels of Ford's full-size truck campaign to replace defective cruise-control switches on nearly 800,000 trucks. Honda just got hit with a big recall on ignitions switches; that's their second one in as many years on that item. The Reuters article referenced above also mentions fuel-filler neck leaks (perhaps a slight safety problem) on some Dodge Durangos; a couple of months ago, DCX was forced to recall over a half-million Durangos and Dakotas for defective ball joints. Toyota's recalling Tacomas for parking-brake problems.

What do all of these have in common? Pretty much the exact opposite of the issues plaguing the GT - it's all really simple stuff; established technology that should be a home-run. I don't know if it's related to ever-increasing cost pressures, a lack of established competency at the OEMs, or if attention is simply being paid to product features that have a higher visability to the customer, but this shit's gotta end or else customers will go elsewhere. Keeping the wheels on, the fires extinguished, and the doors closed has to be kept high on the priority list, even if some marketing dude is insisting that a nav system is really what customers want.

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