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Old 11-21-2006, 05:40 AM   #1
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Default Ford used test drives to tweak Edge, MKX before Job 1

Ford used test drives to tweak Edge, MKX before Job 1



DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. wanted a real-world gut check on the Ford Edge, the crossover deemed its most important product launch of 2006.

So at the end of September, the automaker placed four pre-production 2007 Edges and four pre-production units of its Lincoln MKX sibling in the hands of consumers in California. The consumers -- who normally drive rival Nissan Muranos, Lexus RX 330s or Cadillac SRXs -- were given 60 days to test drive Ford's crossovers and provide weekly criticism and feedback.

They haven't disappointed. Based on early critiques, Ford made several cosmetic fixes to the Edge and MKX in time for their Job 1 manufacturing launch Oct. 16.

Such last-minute changes are unusual, said Dave Pericak, program manager for the Edge and MKX. But the initiative is driven by Ford's realization that it must be more responsive to customer desires.

"That demonstrates how we're going to become more nimble," Pericak said. "We're seeing the results of that, and we were able to pull (those changes) ahead."

The fixes

To satisfy the consumers:

Ford added screening to the lower grille of the Edge and MKX to hide mechanical parts that were visible.

The automaker changed the center stack of the Edge instrument panel to a less-reflective color after complaints that the original created a distracting glare on the windshield.

Ford added a carpeted cover to the spare-tire compartment of the Edge and MKX after the test drivers said it looked too crude.

Ford also approved two functional changes for the vehicles based on the feedback, said Jeff Huber, fleet quality supervisor for Ford's new-model programs. He declined to provide details.

The California consumers continue to drive the Edge and MKX. Ford also gave six units of each nameplate to drivers in New Jersey and Atlanta. The automaker could make further modifications as running changes or for future model years, Huber said.

The Edge and MKX are expected to be on sale in mid-December, a few weeks later than initially planned.

Improving quality score

Ford quality chief Bennie Fowler and former Americas COO Anne Stevens initiated the feedback program, Huber said.

Although Ford has done customer-feedback programs in the past, this is a new approach. Ford is working with J.D. Power and Associates on the program.

Such customer-evaluation programs are becoming more prevalent among automakers, said Amy McFarren, J.D. Power senior manager. The company has offered the service for six years.

Participants typically end up making improvements, McFarren said. Even when a vehicle meets engineering specifications, customers can point out flaws.

"These type of projects allow (the automakers) to understand that, even if it's built to spec, it may not be meeting expectations," McFarren said. "It helps the engineering (and design) teams really shift their focus from 'Does it perform as designed?' to 'Was the design improper?' "

Participants generally score better on J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study and other evaluations, McFarren said.

Improved quality ratings should be a side effect of the Edge and MKX program, Ford officials said. But that wasn't the main motivator.

"This is definitely not solely targeted to trying to improve our IQS," Huber said. "This is trying to do the right thing for the customer."
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