Ford is going all in on crossovers and SUVs, but getting smarter about it

This past spring, Ford announced that it would be trimming its traditional car lineup down to just two vehicles, the new Focus Active and the Mustang. The move is just one of several upcoming adjustments in the company’s future plans, as we learned today at a pre-Woodward Dream Cruise event in the Detroit area.

After Ford debuted the new 2018 Mustang Cobra Jet, Ford executive vice president of product development and purchasing Hau Thai-Tang discussed the company’s vision to move away from current, more restrictive platforms to flexible modular architectures.

For Ford (and every automaker, really) the biggest challenge is finding a balance between common parts that allows economies of scale while offering customers distinct and individualized products. On top of that, automakers need to address the different customers needs across global regions.

As an example, Thai-Tang drew attention to the entry-level subcompact B-car. At one point, Ford had three different cars for the same segment: a Ka for South America, a Fiat-co-developed Ka for Europe, and the Figo for India. These three cars served the same purpose, yet nothing was shared between them. Thai-Tang wants to eliminate these types of inconsistencies. Unnecessary complexities and inefficiency can mean poor resource management, and in turn, financial and developmental waste.

2019 Ford Focus
2019 Ford Focus Ford

Ford’s response will be to slim down its nine global platforms to five modular architectures. These five will include a front-wheel-drive unibody, a rear-wheel-drive unibody, a commercial van unibody, a body-on-frame module, and a battery-electric module. All five architectures will be hybrid-compatible, and they do not include vehicles co-developed with other manufacturers such as the recently-announced Territory crossover for China.

According to Thai-Tang, under the traditional approach to platforms, Ford was only able to share up to 30 percent of a vehicle’s parts with another vehicle. That includes things such as the suspension setup. Ford hopes to increase that total number to approximately 70 percent of the vehicle by creating sharable pieces such as the all-wheel-drive, traction control, infotainment, and HVAC systems. The new architectures would also be flexible to different ride heights, wheelbases, silhouettes, and most importantly track widths, which has previously been extremely difficult or not possible. The idea is to cut costs and increase simplicity.

“This is a really important message,” Thai-Tang said during the presentation. “This is a profound shift in how Ford is thinking about the business and how we’re working.”

2018 Lincoln Aviator
2018 Lincoln Aviator Ford

A large majority of these architectures will fuel the booming trend toward crossovers and away from traditional cars; Ford said roughly 80 percent of its capital will go toward utility vehicles and trucks by 2020. If all goes according to plan, Ford will also reverse its current average vehicle age from 5.7 years old in 2018 to a goal of 3.3 years old by 2020. It’s all about getting fresh metal in the showroom.

Thai-Tang was adamant, however, that this shift does not mean Ford is shrinking. He laid out that Ford will be introducing nine all-new nameplates, seven of which will be trucks and utility vehicles, in the next five years to bring its total portfolio to 23 vehicles. (For reference, Ford currently has 20.) So whether you think Ford is abandoning car customers or not, there’s strategy behind the way the company is trying to appeal to what the market wants.

For enthusiasts, future hopes are pinned to the upcoming boxy and off-road-capable Bronco while the Mustang, thankfully, seems destined for a few more million copies. And while the vast majority of Ford’s future plans are for crossovers, the flexible architecture means cars could make a comeback if the market shifts. One can hope.

2019 Mustang GT California Special
2019 Mustang GT California Special Ford
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