Neil Ressler, Ford's vice president of advanced technology, is chairman of Ford's Cosworth Racing subsidiary and sits on the management board of the company's new Jaguar Formula One team. Ressler also oversees the company's worldwide research and technology development, and it is said that counsel from the 60-year-old company veteran is regularly sought by Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. and President Jac Nasser. Ressler spoke with Automotive News Europe's Aaron Robinson. Edited excerpts follow: What are Ford's engineering and research and development priorities for the next decade?
Our main priority is safety and the environment. Safety having to do, obviously, with crash protection, but also crash avoidance and vehicle compatibility. With the environment, one at first thinks about emissions controls. Those are important, but we also have vapor control, and we have fuel economy, recyclability and ease of disassembly. It's not very glamorous. It's just hard work.
How do you decide which technologies you will be first in?
I think every company has some rationale for that. Some companies just like to be first. Take the Honda Insight. The path we're trying to be on is the one that gets us to an affordable, five-passenger, fuel-efficient vehicle. Given that that's our target, going down the path that Honda has gone down is like driving down a cul-de-sac. You have to make a U-turn and come back out again because that wasn't really where you were headed.
Honda has decided, for whatever reason, that it wants to get there first, quickly, with a small vehicle. On balance, we're all better off with companies pursuing different avenues because we're more likely to find good solutions that way.
How important is it to be first with new technologies?
I wouldn't say that you have to be first in everything. It's hard to be first in everything. You have to figure out where you're headed, and I think it's important to be first on some high-impact items.
Jaguar was in the intensive care ward (when Ford bought it). What has happened since then?
Jaguar has been very effective at implementing processes that we've worked on but had a harder time applying to a much bigger scale. We've discovered that Jaguar has been a good laboratory for how to actually make these things work.
Volvo is maybe the most interesting because Ford bought Volvo at a time when Volvo was a going concern: a healthy company with a good reputation and not in need of being acquired. Volvo has much to bring to the Ford party. There are places where Volvo is legitimately in the lead of Ford and will be doing things that we will migrate to other parts of Ford, but it will be done first at Volvo.