DETROIT - Ford Motor Co. marketers are getting in step with Ford production engineers.
They are streamlining their thinking on current and future products to reduce the number of possible variations of a car. That keeps prices lower, and makes cars easier to sell.
For example, in the 1998 model year, the Ford Expedition could be built in a staggering 410,000 combinations of colors, engines and options. In 1999, the number is 40,000. The goal is 15,000 combinations.
The Ford Explorer dropped from 465,000 build variations to 50,000 in the same time period.
Customers no longer order options from an extensive menu of equipment packages. Some previously optional equipment is now standard, and some options are tied in with others. Some vehicles are offered with no options.
Other vehicles are offered with only two or three option groups, carrying designations such as 'comfort,' 'convenience,' or 'sport.'
For example, the 1997 Ford Taurus could be ordered in G, GL and LX versions with five available option groups bearing designations such as 205A and 209A.
Today, the Taurus is available as an LX or SE model. The LX is offered with no option packages. The SE is available with a comfort option group or a sport group.
Ideally, Ford wants to offer no more than six free-standing options on each of its vehicles, said Lloyd Hansen, controller of Ford's marketing and sales operations.
The result is win/win for Ford, its dealers and its customers, Hansen said.
At Ford, manufacturing is standardized and cheaper.
At the dealership, it is easier to explain a vehicle and its content.
For consumers, ordering is easier.
'It is a huge initiative and we are not done with it,' Hansen said.
Customers favor fewer choices. Ford talked to more than 7,200 prospective buyers in 200 focus groups throughout the USA during the last two years.
'One of the messages that came through was that we were offering too many series, too many option packages and too many stand-alone options,' Hansen said.
'If you have to prepare an assembly plant to produce all of these different combinations, you need a longer line and more equipment,' he said.
'If you figure out what it is the customer really wants, you simplify the process.'