It is now one year since Ford formally completed its e3bn purchase of Land Rover from BMW. Time to find out what’s going on, then. But with the new generation Range Rover being prepared for production later this year, the company is not keen to have members of the fourth estate around the Solihull site.
Behind the scenes, though, the overhaul is wide and deep. Ford immediately identified that, whatever Land Rover’s merits, product quality was not among them. It brought in an enthusiastic Australian, Marin Burela, as manufacturing director to drive through the changes. One of Burela’s first actions was symbolic: he moved the daily manufacturing review from the boardroom to different parts of the factory.
In other words, Land Rover planned to involve its employees more closely. If it is being squeezed into the Ford mould, it does not mean Maverick-style Freelanders, any more than it meant Scorpio-type Jaguars. What Ford did at Land Rover was to impose its standards, systems, processes and priorities.
‘It’s the biggest single, positive change Land Rover has ever gone through,’ says Mike Quirke, a regional sales manager and a Land Rover veteran. The difference, he says, is that BMW took over Land Rover, but Ford made it part of the family. As an autonomous company – albeit part of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group – decisions affecting Land Rover are now made in Solihull, not in Munich, as they were under BMW.
The changes span the practical and philosophical. Roof leaks were repaired, rest areas and drinking fountains installed. Employees who had always built Land Rovers were taken through the famous jungle off-road course. Over the winter, 3,000 line workers took part in 10- to 15-day training programmes at Ford, Jaguar and Volvo sites.
At the same time, Land Rover instigated a priority change. The important thing for BMW was to achieve engineering integrity with consistent, precise panel gaps and alignments. ‘That was all very well, but the customer wouldn’t necessarily know if there was an improvement,’ says Lee Workman, an engineer with the plant vehicle team. ‘These days we are totally customer-focused. Our quality audits are now aligned to customer issues, as opposed to technical issues.’
Another element of this newly-found customer zeal was the creation of a team of ‘mentors’ – factory engineers whose job is to liaise directly with specific dealers around the world. They learn first hand from customers about quality issues and are authorised to make the necessary production and equipment changes on the line.’It’s really working well. Under Ford, we don’t just talk about it. It happens,’ says mentor Chris Worwood. ‘I can’t understand why we didn’t do it before.’
The evident enthusiasm for the changes inside the company extends to the dealerships, according to Richard Thompson, dealer principle at Lancaster Land Rover in Reading. ‘We’re enthused by it, and we’re selling more as a result,’ he says. ‘As a dealer, we feel we are now working to the same agenda. And that agenda is quality.’