DEARBORN, MI – Ford Motor Co. opens a new training center at its historic Rouge complex here that will be used to ensure top quality for the upcoming ’09 F-150 pickup.

Dubbed the New-Model Quality Center, the facility is located in the historic Albert Kahn-designed Dearborn Glass Plant.

“We’re going to train more than 1,000 employees on F-150 production,” says Mark Fields, president-The Americas. “We will also train on fit and finish, which is a major part of our turnaround.”

Fields says the training facility will help build on Ford’s recent quality gains, noting customers in a variety of surveys rated the auto maker’s performance in 2007 as equal or better than the industry’s top performers.

“Quality soared in 2007,” he says. “We’re now among the best in the business.”

This year, Ford won 14 honors in the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, more than any other auto maker.

Ford engineers and plant workers currently are gearing up for next fall’s launch of the ’09 F-150 by evaluating 18,000 design elements using production simulation tools at the auto maker’s digital pre-assembly laboratory.

Additionally, the trucks are being built on virtual assembly lines to address quality issues before production begins at Ford’s Dearborn and Kansas City, MO, assembly plants.

Employees also will train on workstations designed to emulate those in chassis and final assembly areas, Ford says. Another two workstations will allow in-depth study of the new F-150’s frame, while other stations will be used to train employees on part installation procedures.

Ford now has similar quality centers at each of its North American assembly plants.

Fields admits the ’09 F-150 will be launching in a slumping and highly competitive segment.

Fullsize pickup sales in November fell 9.7% compared with year-ago to 143,588 units, Ward's data shows, with deliveries sliding 3.3% through the first 11 months to 1,966,276.

Despite the sluggish market, Fields remains confident the new F-150 will be successful.

“We’re listening to what customers want,” he says. “We have to listen, understand and take action. There are more truck customers than anyone on the planet.”

Meanwhile, Fields says he is looking forward to 2008, although it will be a challenging year for the auto industry.

“It will be a big opportunity to build on our momentum of products and people,” he says, noting internal surveys suggest employee morale is on the rise at Ford.

bpope@wardsauto.com