THE DEVELOPMENT teams at Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen set ambitious quality and cost targets for their new lower-medium cars.
They also cut development times, although in the case of the VW Golf early quality problems led to a slow production start.
Volkswagen's Golf development team, led by Horst Koenig, focused on making the new Golf safer, quieter, more fuel-efficient and giving it a higher-value interior.
'We wanted to show the customers that we would do more than they expected,' said Koenig. Goals for costs, quality and production times 'were difficult targets, but achievable,' he said.
The design process was an evolution of the approach used for the Passat that debuted in 1996. But more simultaneous engineering was used on the Golf. Also, module development teams started work earlier, with greater supplier integration.
The new Golf had a running start. The platform, which is shared with the New Beetle, Audi A3 and Skoda Octavia, was already 18 months old by the time work started on the new car.
The development team took 31 months from design freeze to start of production. But some of the benefits of the early launch have been lost due to its slow production ramp-up. The Wolfsburg plant was due to reach full production seven months after Job One, but quality problems have increased that to nearly a year.
Volkswagen had wanted to exceed the quality of the outgoing Golf from Job One, said Production Director Volker Weissgerber. A VW spokesman said that the emphasis on high quality targets and new production technologies caused some of the early production problems.
When the Golf reaches full output at the end of June, assembly time is expected to be about 30 percent lower than the former model.
Astra's six-month delay
The cornerstones for the development of the Astra were 'quality, styling, functional packaging, and German engineering,' said Arturo Elias, GM's global vehicle line executive for compact cars.
'We wanted to make a substantial leap in the quality, overall functionality and performance of this vehicle, relative to the outgoing model.'
The quality target delayed the start of production for the Astra. About 18 months before launch, GM saw 'a series of issues that, when we put them together, said we were not going to meet our targets,' said Elias.
GM delayed the launch by six months. Full production of the Astra will be reached at Opel's Bochum, Germany, plant in May.
One important quality target was the elimination within the warranty period of 'walk home' vehicle failures.
GM has introduced new production technologies for the Astra, such as hydroforming, and divided the final trim line into two. But the company has also improved its launch process.
'We introduced the concept of Bucket-Builds,' said Elias, 'whereby we would run a number of vehicles in the plant and then have a one to two week period to analyze where we could boost quality. Then we would run the Buckets again, until we completely minimized the risks.'
These pre-production runs on the final assembly line started six months before the launch.
GM invested 240,000 training hours at Bochum - almost 10 times as much as for previous launches.
The car took four years to reach the market from the agreement of its targets, and 30 months from design freeze. The development budget was $820 million and $2.2 billion was spent on new tooling. The Astra's assembly time has been cut by about 35 percent.
Both Volkswagen and Opel have increased the level of vertical integration at their lead plants for the new models, compared with their predecessors.
Ford 2000's first car
Ford's Focus has been designed 'from the inside out,' said Jacques Nasser, head of Ford Automotive Operations.
He said the package 'offers more refinement, more sophistication, more equipment and more safety' while still remaining affordable.
The new platform is the first global car to be developed under the Ford 2000 program. According to Nasser, this has produced major cost savings in the development process.
Ford has not disclosed by how much assembly time has been cut. But the lead Saarlouis plant is reorganizing production along the lines of Ford's highly efficient plant in Valencia, Spain, which assembles the Fiesta and Ka. A new supplier park at Saarlouis will also cut stocks and costs.