DUBAI, UAE and DEARBORN – Middle Eastern media witnessed Ford’s intense focus on strengthening its product offerings on two occasions this year.
In order to share information about Ford’s products and focus on customers, media from the region were given a behind-the-scenes look at the company’s product development system in southeastern Michigan.
Then, they saw how meeting the needs of customers is at the heart of the multiple trips Ford engineers take to the Middle East in the scorching heat of the summer and throughout the year.
For the past several years, as many as 25 engineers at a time have traveled to the region to drive vehicles and evaluate their response to extreme conditions, including intense heat and sun exposure, dust and sand and high-speed driving. Larry Prein, managing director, Ford Middle East, Export and Growth (E&G), said these drives are part of the company’s continually increasing commitment to the region. “Ford Motor Company and the engineering leadership team are focusing more of our efforts on in-market confirmation drives in order to ensure we’re delivering industry-leading quality and durable products to our customers.”
The evaluation drives also allow engineers to become sensitive to the needs of the market and share the knowledge they gain. “Our in-market product evaluation events have brought at least 45 engineers from across the world to this region to experience the range of conditions encountered by drivers in the Middle East,” said Lawrence Kummer, Vehicle Integration manager, Global Product Development.
Competitive vehicles are also included in the evaluation drives to allow Ford engineers to benchmark the company’s products.
Being in the Middle East so frequently also gives E&G the opportunity to meet regularly with its dealers in the region and capture their feedback on what customers tell them about their vehicles, particularly vehicles with a longer time in service.
Ziyad Dallalah, Product Development manager, Ford Middle East, said the goal is to ensure the vehicles are ready to be launched in the region. “We initiate our in-market evaluations at least one year prior to launch so we can embed the lessons learned in our corporate knowledge and apply them to our vehicles.”
The expectation is that the updates and changes stemming from these drives will result in vehicles best-suited to the market.
This year’s August trip gave a select group of journalists from Saudi Auto, Sport Auto, Motoring Middle East and Middle East Car an inside look at the process the engineers go through and their own preview of what may lie ahead, as the drive included prototypes of the all-new Ford Fusion and Focus ST that are being evaluated for introduction in the coming year.
As temperatures exceeded 120 Fahrenheit, drive participants crossed the United Arab Emirates from Dubai through deserts and towns, on highways and city streets, to the city of Fujairah on the shores of the Indian Ocean. In his review of the day, Shahzad Sheikh of Motoring Middle East wrote that the Focus ST was “an absolute hoot in the mountain roads.”
He and other journalists who got behind the wheel came away impressed with the behind-the-scenes efforts to deliver cars that are best-suited for this region.
Sheikh noted that the engineers “jumped on their laptops at every stop to record and file away data fed in from multiple sensors installed around the car,” writing that “it can only lead to more durable, reliable and appropriate vehicles for our market.”
Thanks to the heat and unique terrain of the region, the conditions encountered by the engineering team exceed what most drivers would experience when they drive their Ford vehicle. These drives occur regularly because one of the lessons that’s been learned is that engineering vehicles to meet the needs of the Middle East market makes the portfolio better for the rest of the world. Middle East testing has generated more than 20 corporate knowledge updates or standards surrounding:
• wind noise
• transmission performance
• driveline, transmission and engine cooling
• component sealing
• air conditioning, air distribution and time to cool
• brake NVH/dust
While the drives help Ford produce vehicles aligned with the Middle Eastern market, they’re only one component of the company’s increasing commitment to the region.
Ford also has two full-time vehicle integration/product development engineers based in the region and a team of technical field personnel who meet regularly with dealers on technician training and product service needs.
Some of the media participated in both events. Those who traveled to Dearborn attended an annual conference, Go Further With Ford, that examines global trends and issues facing consumers, along with what influences their choices. Mustafa Fakhri of Automobile magazine called the extent to which Ford thinks about and integrates consumer trends into planning and products amazing. He said he found Ford to be more than a mass producer of vehicles and believes the company cares about its customers and the world in which they live.
Middle East media at the Dearborn Development Center.
Middle East media at the Michigan Proving Grounds in Romeo.