Clean and efficient power for the people 

Dirk Borrmann, Segment Chief, European B Car, Ford of Europe has a tremendous challenge: to ‘democratise’ advanced technology for Ford customers in a very competitive market segment and harness supplier innovation, as he tells Simon Duval Smith. 

The B Car segment has been pivotal to Ford's success for many decades; the original Fiesta was launched in 1976 as the first 'world car' and has gone on to sell 16 million units across almost every market in the world, making it one of the best selling Ford models behind the Escort and the F-Series. 

The Fiesta has gone through seven generations and has been manufactured globally, in Europe, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, China, India, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Venezuela and South Africa. 

One might think that the B-segment could not succeed in North America but in 2010, the sixth generation Fiesta (Mark VI) was introduced worldwide, making it the first Fiesta model to be sold in North America since the Fiesta Mark I was discontinued at the end of 1980. 

Highly targeted design and production

The Fiesta was originally approved for development by Henry Ford II in September 1972, just after the launch of two comparable cars – the Fiat 127 and Renault 5. More than a decade earlier, Ford had decided against producing a new small car to rival BMC's Mini as the production cost was deemed too high, but the 1973 oil crisis saw a rise in the already growing demand for smaller cars. 

The Fiesta was an all-new car in the supermini segment and was the smallest car yet made by Ford. Development targets indicated a production cost of $100 less than the current Escort. The car was to have a wheelbase longer than that of the Fiat 127, but with an overall length shorter than that of the company's Escort. The final proposal was developed by Tom Tjaarda at Ghia. The project was approved for production in late 1973, with Ford's engineering centres in Cologne (Germany) and Dunton (UK) collaborating. 

Ford initially estimated that 500,000 Fiestas a year would be produced, and built an all-new factory near Valencia, Spain, a trans-axle factory near Bordeaux, France and factory extensions for the assembly plants in Dagenham, UK. Final assembly also took place in Valencia. 

Supermini - super sales

With its extraordinarily global platform history, I ask Dirk Borrmann if, with the increased autonomy of Ford regions around the world, designing and making their own superminis and other models, whether he and his team still have to think in global market terms when developing a new B-Segment offering. "Yes, we still think like this, it is an exciting challenge with every new generation of Fiesta. We do have some differing requirements in emerging markets and developed markets where different regulations dictate some changes in specification," he says, adding, "From that point of view, making a 'one fits all' car is a challenge but in order to get greater economy of scale and so as not to develop everything two, three or four times, we have to take a global approach. We want to design and develop one platform, with a flexible architecture and from this we can scale up or down according to different market requirements." 

This brought me on to ask how small can the supermini platform go, as it has grown over the years; Ford brought in Ka in many markets, using the Fiesta platform but with smaller overall body dimensions, to create a 'subcompact' car. Borrmann says that the current platform is very adaptable. "We produce the Ka+ which is our entry-level vehicle; this is technically a full-size, five-door B-car. We stopped Ka production as a three-door sub-B car. We found that segment really was not growing and the segment is extremely crowded. We aim to place our products in areas where we see real business opportunities rather than just be another player in a busy segment, at any cost." 

EV and hybrid challenges

With every new platform development needing to be flexible enough to accommodate today's rapidly accelerating change to alternative powertrains, I ask Borrmann if, as an engineer, he is excited by the prospect of designing a new platform that can utilise the various new powertrains. He says that the new platform is not destined to offer EV power just yet. "At this point in time the common platform is used for the Ka+ as well as the Fiesta and the EcoSport and these are not offered with any electrification. For the future we have to think hard about what is the right approach to alternative powertrains and suitable platforms. There will be a period of transition to EVs, hybrids etc, and we know that the world will not switch from internal combustion engines to EVs. At the moment we offer electrification options in our C-segment and above vehicles, such as Focus and Mondeo and this is where we will focus on for the present." 

Mondeo Hybrid
Lightweighting at competitive cost

All OEMs are aiming for lighter vehicles in the emissions and fuel economy race but in the lower vehicle segments, this presents a significant cost challenge. Borrmann says that high-strength steels have been a boon for the B Car platform and the body architectures. "50% of the Ka+ structure is high-strength steel, using boron steels. This material is tough to use as it is so strong and has to be hot stamped." Although more expensive than conventional steel, the higher-strength steels are still much cheaper than using aluminium, as Ford does in the F-Series pickups, as Borrmann says. "It depends on the vehicle design, you cannot always make a simple business decision. On the F-150 we used aluminium and this helped to lift it above competitors in a very competitive market. Also, we can incorporate high-strength steels into existing steel bodies, something we could not do if we were going over to a significant use of aluminium, then we would need to design a new architecture." 

Suppliers following shifting EcoSport production 

The Ford EcoSport, the subcompact crossover SUV, was originally built in Brazil by Ford Brazil since 2003, at the Camaçari plant. A second generation concept model was launched in 2012 and is also assembled in new factories in India, Thailand and Russia. The vehicle entered the North American market for the first time in 2017. In March 2016, it was announced that the Ford EcoSport would be built at the company’s Craiova plant starting from the autumn of 2017, moving production for the European market from the current plant in Chennai, India. This decision was taken to exploit the growing market for the SUV segment in Europe and brought an investment of $230 million-plus to the factory in Romania. Moving production of a high volume vehicle is always complex and I ask Borrmann about the Ford 'transplant' experience. "It had its challenges, as you can imagine, we were moving a mid-cycle programme to an all-new plant environment but we delivered the new production on time and we are very proud of having a flawless launch and the plant is running at full capacity now. We are particularly proud of this as we still have a quite diverse supply base, with the production starting point in India. We had a considerable logistics challenge too, in transportation in and out of the plant." 

Many of the suppliers in India were, of course, global suppliers with a local presence so switching the production base worked well for them, as Borrmann says. "For many parts, you find that you are dealing with a global name but these international suppliers were often in partnership with an Indian supplier so technically you are working with an Indian vendor. If there are any difficulties then the global knowledge base of the parent supplier needs to help." 

Bad shippers and localisation

This situation has been advantageous to Borrmann's team as they have not had to set up a local supply base in Romania for most parts but there are exceptions, as he says. "Typically what we have done is to look for what we call 'bad shippers': bulky and heavy material that costs a fortune to transport. Then it is basically a matter of considering the business case; how much one needs to spend on tooling to produce these large parts locally to overcome the cost of shipping from India or another long-distance supply line." I suggest to Borrmann that the bad shipping term also applies to large low-value items that may not be particularly heavy. "Yes indeed. If you consider a fuel tank, for example, this has a lot of volume for not a lot of value, and local production of this could be set up quite quickly." 

On this point, I ask him if this type of supply decision has meant bringing more component making in-house at Ford in Romania or an opportunity to bring suppliers on-site. "In Craiova, we do have a supplier park which was established to support B-Max production and in general we have continued that set-up, for EcoSport components. We have some space available for new suppliers to come. We have a different supplier for the instrument panel of the Ecosport; we brought the new supplier on-site." 

Low cost location versus logistics costs

While labour costs in Craiova are lower than in western Europe at present, there are added costs in shipping some parts to the plant and of course transporting finished vehicles. I ask Borrmann how competitive the location is when compared to Saarlouis or Valencia. "We think it makes good business sense now; of course we have a trade-off between the lower cost structure in Romania and the outbound shipping costs. This is something we examined very carefully, taking into account the total cost of ownership as we call it." 

Powertrain variations and challenges

Ford is offering a multiplicity of engines in its small car ranges, including the three-cylinder petrol engine, as Borrmann explains. "We have several different three-cylinder motors, in the Fiesta and the EcoSport we have the 1.0-litre Ecoboost, in the KA+ we have a different 1.2-litre three-cylinder naturally aspirated (NA) engine, from an engine family that also has 1.5-litre NA and turbo motors available. We feel that a three-cylinder engine is the lowest number of cylinders we want to produce, we looked at twin-cylinder engines, like the Fiat TwinAir but this is a very difficult engine layout, we don't feel that a twin is very suitable for turbocharging. It has too much time between strokes to make a smooth and responsive motor. The three-cylinder gives you enough gas in the cylinders to keep the turbo spinning as well as a better pulse frequency, which accelerates the gas flow rather than slowing it down. We are also going to announce cylinder deactivation to help emissions further." 

Talking about the future of Ford's small car powertrains brings us on to the subject of alternative petrol and diesel engine cycles. Borrmann is in favour of using an Atkinson cycle motor in a hybrid. "In combination with e-power, the Atkinson cycle enables us to tailor the running speed to the 'sweet spot' of the engine at higher revs. The torque of the Atkinson cycle is not that favourable to a gasoline-only application; if you can 'fill in' the low end with, for example, electric boost or total electric propulsion, that makes a lot of sense, as Toyota do on some of their hybrids." 

EV and hybrid power in the B segment

Bringing alternative powertrain technology to any segment is expensive for an OEM; in the smaller vehicle segments, it can erode an already small profit margin in extremely competitive sectors of the market. Borrmann agrees but says that Ford has to stay competitive with other OEMs who are offering the new powertrains in their smaller segment vehicles. "In principle, we are in line with the competition, we all need to offer the same level of new technology to our customers. One thing is clear. These new technologies are still not cheap and what we need is to increase the economy of scale. The future is most dynamic, specifically in the battery area, we are seeing some significant advances in this area but still not enough advances to be attractive for the super-mass production of EVs and hybrids. We are investing around $15 million in electrification, including battery-electric vehicles and more hybrid 'bridging' technologies. When the customer is able to stop for a recharge for only 15 minutes - the time it takes to fill a car with petrol or diesel, then we shall see much greater take-up of EVs. Until this technology is widespread, I see the petrol engine, in its cleaner and cleaner forms, being around for quite some time, moving towards a 'bridging' technology, making the link to an electric future." 

Supplier innovation

I ask Borrmann what supplier innovations have really impressed him in the last few years. He cites cylinder deactivation as one exciting development, "We have seen this developed to use on even our three-cylinder motors. We are sharing more and more research with the supply base and it is responding in a very positive way to all the challenges of developing new technology at a cost that all our customers will be able to enjoy in the future." 

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