The road to engineering cars and trucks for global markets can be littered with potholes - both the literal kind that tear up suspensions, and the figurative kind that are tough to anticipate.
Consider this old story that still circulates aroundCorp. After Chrysler received complaints repeatedly from wealthy Egyptian owners that air conditioning systems in their Jeeps were no good because they conked out prematurely, it dispatched engineers to find out why.
Since no one else reported similar incidents,wanted to see how the Egyptians were using their Jeeps. Typically, they discovered that when the owners went on picnics with their entourages they'd leave their engines running with the A/C turned on full blast to keep the food and beverages cool, in effect using their Jeeps as picnic coolers! No word on how Chrysler resolved the problem.
Whenintroduced the Rabbit in the U.S. during the '70s, the first wave of shipments were all painted the same color: deep green. Why? Because that color was popular in Germany. Not so in the U.S., at least not then. Result: Rabbit got off to a slow start in America.
In the '80s,exported cars from Japan with standard radios popular in its home market only to learn that American buyers were ripping them out and replacing them with custom sound systems. Honda's solution: Remove the radios when the cars arrived in U.S. ports, leaving it up to dealers or buyers to spec them out.
Most of these wrinkles have smoothed out in recent years as buyer tastes and preferences have come closer together in world markets.
But the wave of automaker globalization reflecting the realities of economic and political forces can give engineers fits on occasion.
WhenMotor Co. engineered the Escort for assembly in India it selected a 1.3L 4-cyl. gasoline engine and a 1.8L 4-cyl. naturally aspirated diesel, figuring the latter to grab 10% to 15% of the sales mix.
At the time the price of both fuels was about the same in India. A change in government tax policy to balance refining requirements, however, dropped diesel prices 25% to 30% under gasoline, sharply boosting demand for diesel-powered Escorts. "We called the mix wrong,"'s new Group Vice President for Product Development Richard Parry-Jones concedes. But on the plus side "we are one of the few manufacturers with a diesel in that market," he adds.
Before launching Escort in India, Ford dispatched 20 cars for on-the-road testing, he says. Although Ford knew that Indian drivers lay on the horn incessantly, it wasn't prepared for what happened. "In a relatively short time, all of the bloody horns started failing," says Mr. Parry-Jones. "We changed the design of the horn and the horn bracket so we had a more robust design that was louder and longer-lasting.
"We did a retrospective analysis of the number of times an Indian driver uses a horn, and it's 20 times higher than any market we've ever encountered," he adds.
Indeed, local testing is increasingly common at Ford before entering new markets. Last year Ford spent $2 million to test Taurus, Fiesta and the European Transit van/bus in seven Chinese cities located in two provinces.
"We learned a lot," says Charles B. Centivany, manager of worldwide cycle plan development in Ford's product and business strategy office. "It's congested, so it affects the batteries. And they brake four to five times more than in the U.S. The fuel also is uneven and they frequently drive off-road," he says.
Ford began building Transits in collaboration with Jiangling Motor Corp. last December. It helped that 14 Chinese engineers spent a year in England working with Ford engineers. "We made numerous changes," says Gerald J. Kania, vice president of Ford Motor (China) Ltd.. "For example, they tend to overload their vehicles, so we maxed the specs."
The up-front work paid off. "We built 10 vehicles (pre-production Transits)," says Mr. Kania, "but found only 47 things 'gone wrong,' compared to 60 in a typical program."
The moral? As Mr. Parry-Jones might put it in his British accent, "Mind the potholes."