Ford Motor Co.'s ambitious Ford 2000 program puts unprecedented responsibility on the automaker's Europe-based small/medium front-drive vehicle program center (VPC) -- some 40% of the automaker's worldwide volume.

But Richard Parry-Jones, Ford's British-born vice president in charge of that center, has experience with world cars and welcomes the challenge.

Mr. Parry-Jones' shepherding of the CDW27 project that spawned the Mondeo in Europe and the Contour/ Mystique in the U.S. was the first truly global project and the prototype for Ford 2000. Some industry watchers criticized the $6 billion pricetag, but Mr. Parry-Jones, 44, says his group is pleased with the results. Dearborn apparently liked his work, too; he now is responsible for a high-volume Escort replacement (see story, p.65) and taking future small Ford cars into developing markets in South America and Asia.

Due in Europe and North America by January 1998, the Escort replacement will be designed completely by the European VPC, Mr. Parry-Jones explains.

"Our VC has had the most experience with the issues and challenges that world cars present," the 27-year Ford veteran explains. "And our breadth of experience is rapidly building up."

That experience certainly will come into play when developing a new B-segment Fiesta -- codenamed BE91 -- which is expected to bow in Europe after the Escort introduction. Mr. Parry-Jones says that car has great potential for worldwide sales, despite its exclusion from the U.S.

"What we're finding is that the B-car we have in Europe is very adaptable to other parts of the world," he says. "We're exporting 40,000 Fiestas from Valencia this year to Brazil, and we're looking to export the Fiesta to a number of markets in Asia. We're also reviewing our market lineup in Mexico. We think the B-car segment may very well be a major, major portion of the market in the future.

"So the fact that we're not in the U.S. with the Fiesta adds a whole new dimension to Ford 2000. I am probably busier in the B and C segment, in non-North American globalization than I am in North American globalization -- particularly in the B segment."

The Fiesta already is slated for production in Brazil, and probably will see assembly in Asia. The added volume those new markets provide will-allow more niche vehicles based on the next-generation Fiesta.

"Right now, I am looking at different body styles in Brazil that have export opportunities. They may not be viable standalone programs in Europe or other parts of the world, but if you aggregate worldwide volumes, you have a reasonable cost base," he says.

Ford's new Ka city car also holds great promise in developing markets. "Price is absolutely. key to making this car work," Mr. Parry-Jones says.

"Driving the cost down on this car is essential. We have quite a few innovative ways to do that, some with our suppliers, but the other is a real new focus on simplicity." He adds that the Ka may find its way into China at some point.

A native of Wales, Mr. Parry-Jones joined Ford of Britain in 1969 as a graduate trainee and moved through a series of positions until he was named director of Ford of Europe's technical planning office and the vehicle concepts engineering office. In 1989 Mr. Parry-Jones took a special assignment on Ford's simultaneous engineering study team.

In January 1990 he returned to Europe when he was appointed general manufacturing manager of manufacturing operations at Ford's Cologne plant. After that assignment was Ford of Europe's chief engineer then vice president of product programs, vehicle engineering and design.

Even with all of this experience under his belt, perhaps the biggest learning experience of his life was the Mondeo/Contour/ Mystique project.

Mr. Parry-Jones says his group now is "a lot more comfortable with the idea of working across the major regional borders between Ford and its supply bases and between the various organizational elements within Ford.

"We learned that customers' requirements around the world are more common than unique," he says. While the level of sophistication varies from market to market, they still want affordability, quality, reliability and durability, he notes. The key national differences, he says, are fuel quality and body-style preferences. We need to keep the fundamentals common and come up with creative solutions to meet the differences," says Mr. Party-Jones, describing the basics of world-car development.

Mr. Parry-Jones says the needs of customers in Europe and North America are more similar than originally anticipated. "I think we were a bit conservative, a bit cautious and we went for a unique ski and a unique interior between the European and the North American version," he says. "We've grown in confidence now and we can look for significantly less differentiation between Europe and the North American product."

He adds that a pivotal part of the basics is identifying customer needs. "The process of collecting data is more complex with world cars, but its vital nature is raised:" he says. "We felt the process went very well (with CDW27), but it will be better next time."

Mr. Parry-Jones says he realizes that he's not the only engineer in the world designing global cars, but "I have probably one of the most diverse and remote markets, and the vehicles we've been asked to produce support a lot of growth objectives in the emerging markets. It is more complicated, but it is more fun."

Tim Keenan contributed to this report