The Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute SUV was the first new vehicle platform from Ford that truly was developed by two separate brands with two separate international cultural traditions says Shamel Rushwin, Ford's vice president of manufacturing. Marrying the two very different design and engineering traditions involved dealing with many issues besides the obvious, he adds.

For instance, Ford program teams typically approach new vehicles holistically, with the entire vehicle seen as one system. Mazda program teams traditionally are divided into component- or system-based groups.

What's more, he says, Ford grants extensive engineering and design responsibility to suppliers who are told what a component must do, and with what it will have to work, and then are allowed to design the component to fit the job. Mazda, on the other hand, usually has designed its own components and issues the designs and specifications to suppliers.

Language, of course, presented the usual difficulties. Meetings were subject to the same protocol as diplomatic summits - with simultaneous translation. "If you think your meetings drag on - imagine everything having to be said twice, and sometimes repeated for clarification," he says with a chuckle.

The Escape and Tribute programs also preceded Ford's new standardized global C3P computer-aided engineering standard, so engineering communications for the two brands required a translator as well, he says.

Other issues the two teams had to deal with:

* The Ford Kansas City Assembly plant, which produces Escape and Tribute for North America and other markets, uses less automation than Mazda's Hofu facility, which builds the platform for Asian markets. While modern by world standards, Kansas City is less adaptable to technically sophisticated manufacturing scenarios. Because of this, the Ford contingent assumed lead responsibility for manufacturing and production issues.

* The Escape/Tribute program actually includes four vehicle lines: the left-hand-drive Escape and Tribute, assembled in Kansas City, and the right-hand drive versions, assembled in Hofu. In addition to driver side distinctions, Kansas City products use mostly North American-supplied components while Hofu uses components from an Asian supply base.

* While the Kansas City and Hofu products may look like mirror images of each other, Japanese sheet metal gauge standards are different, so the stampings used at the two plants are different.

Although Escape and Tribute models come down the same lines in both plants, only the roof panels, windshields and front door glass are shared, he says.