Ford’s big vision for small cars…

Ford hopes that its pepped-up Fiesta – the first of four new small cars to be launched by Spring 2003 – will help haul it back to its previous, exalted position in this sector of the European car market.

Much depends on the new Ford Fiesta. It will, its makers hope, go a long way towards restoring the company’s fortunes in Europe where, in common with the other volume producers, it has been suffering from over-capacity and poor profitability.

‘Small cars are crucial to the success of any volume car manufacturer in Europe,’ says Ford of Europe chairman David Thursfield. ‘You cannot truly succeed as a mainstream brand in this market if you don’t get your small cars right.’

But in recent years the Fiesta has struggled somewhat. The current model dates back, originally, to 1989. Though a midlife revamp was, by general consensus, considered to have shifted its driving characteristics up to the top of its class, another facelift two years ago could not disguise the fact that, especially in terms of itsinterior packaging, it had beenovertaken by newer competitors.

So the Fiesta had some ground to make up.

The design team for the all-new model concentrated on improvements in five areas: space, safety, style, driving quality and value. But chief programme engineer Jeremy Main says: ‘Space was the top priority: how big could we make the inside given its outside dimensions? The story of the Fiesta is really one of package efficiency: keeping the small car feeling of manoeuvrability while taking away some of the irritations of owning a small car.’

The new car, which goes on sale next March, is only the start. One small car isn’t enough to meet the demands of today’s market, Ford believes. Though the Ka, based on the outgoing Fiesta, continues in production for the time being, the new Fiesta is just the first of four new vehicles which Ford has committed itself to launching in the small car segment by the first quarter of 2003. A strong hint about what form the others might take is provided by concept cars Ford has shown at recent motor shows. The StreetKa is a budget cabriolet, while the Fusion, described as an ‘urban adventure vehicle’, combines small car dimensions with the tough-cool style vocabulary of a 4×4 mini MPV.

First collaboration

One thing that will differentiate the new Fiesta from the old is that it will no longer be built at Dagenham. Cologne will be the main production centre for the car. The TDCi common rail diesel for the new model, representing the first fruits of collaboration with Peugeot will be supplied by Peugeot from France. Dagenham, now Ford’s centre for diesel expertise, will produce larger capacity engines under the joint venture.

Ford’s aim was to maximise the interior dimensions and load-carrying capacity of the new car without making it too big on the outside. It claims it has succeeded in producing class-leading interior space, and though it is longer, wider and taller than its predecessor, various competitors are larger in one or more dimensions. Ramsys’s 3D human model software was one of the tools used to design the interior package.

The driver’s hip point is 45mm higher than the older car to provide a ‘command’ driving position, necessitating a correspondingly higher roof line. Ford say that anyone from a 2.5 percentile female to a 97.5 percentile male (in other words, 95% of the adult population) should be able to find a comfortable driving position, and moreover should be able to see almost to the front of the bonnet. In other words, no more cushions for shorter drivers.

Package engineer Isabel Steinhouse says the rear passenger space has been designed to hold three adults. The boot is big enough to hold two large suitcases without lowering the seat back, and a baby buggy or set of golf clubs will fit sideways. With the seat down a large item of flat-pack furniture can be slotted in; the load height has been lowered and the rear hatch opening widened.

Design challenge

The higher driving position created a challenge for the Fiesta stylists: to disguise the car’s greater height. This has partly been achieved by the tapering shape of the ‘daylight opening’ (toward the rear) and the side profile which emphasises the cabin area. The tapering windows and converging feature lines help to contribute to a ‘dynamic stance’, says chief designer Mark Adams. At the rear, high level rear lights wrapping round help to disguise the length of the car; at the front wrap-round headlamps make the bonnet appear shorter. The family resemblance to the Focus is obvious.

These days small car buyers demand big car safety features. The Fiesta will offer up to six airbags: two front, two thorax protection bags contained in the front seats, and two side curtain bags for side impacts. Two-stage airbags, controlled by Ford’s Intelligent Protection System, are used at the front, capable of inflating either 60% or 100% depending on the severity of the accident, as measured by two accelerometers. The seat belts have pre-tensioners, and load-limiters to prevent chest injuries.

Restraints engineer Marcus Wood says that airbag and seat belt systems have reached such a state of development that attention now needs to turn to lower leg injuries. This is addressed by a steering column which can collapse forward 75mm as well as decoupling from the rack, a polypropylene shroud in which polystyrene foam is sandwiched, which crushes to absorb energy if the driver’s knee hits it, and a decoupling pedal box.

Safety begins with a robust body structure, which, in automotive design, is also the foundation for precise handling. The new car’s body is 100% stiffer in bending and 40% stiffer in torsion than the old model (though this is due in part to the greater relative glassed area as compared with the former model). High strength steel makes up 40% of the structure and laser-welded blanks are used in key areas to tailor the strength of panels to the loads they have to carry.

Simulations using a model consisting of 150,000 finite elements were run on a Cray computer to design the body structure. Sacrificial bolt-on members at the front and rear are designed to be the only part of the structure to be damaged in accidents up to 15km/h. In more serious crashes the structure is designed to dissipate energy, not just into the floor pan but also through the front windscreen pillars and into the roof rails.

At the rear the body has been designed to withstand a 50mph impact, either direct, offset or aimed straight at the fuel tank, without fuel leaking. High-strength steel is used extensively round the tailgate opening to prevent its distorting under impact, despite its relatively large size.

In the doors, a new type of cold-formed side impact beam – which requires 40 operations to press into shape – is used.

Body engineer Stuart Black expects the car to achieve a high four-star rating in the NCAP crash tests.

In the crucial area of ‘drive quality’, the designers’ aim was to keep the Fiesta’s acknowledged class-leading ability. But there is more to driving quality than optimising suspension bushes and creating a precise steering feel, says chassis systems engineer Ben Butlin. Apart from the car’s dynamics, the cabin environment, sound quality, responsive acceleration and overall driveability all play a part in creating a driving experience to ‘flatter the novice and reward the expert’, he says.

This is not to say that extensive suspension and steering work has not gone on. The new car’s stiffer bodyshell provides the foundation. At the front the steering and suspension mounts onto a new, stiffer subframe. Though the basic Macpherson strut suspension is kept, much work has gone into optimising bushes. In the steering department, as in the Focus, efforts have been directed at minimising friction. Making power steering standard across the range has allowed steering ‘feel’ to be optimised. At the rear the torsion beam has been redesigned with a new profile to increase roll stiffness and give better control of suspension geometry in corners. An angled control arm mounting helps to reduce any tendency to oversteer. Unusually, springs and dampers are mounted separately to minimise intrusion into the boot.

Track is increased by 57mm at the rear and 48mm at the front. Upgraded brakes with bigger discs and drums, derived from the Focus and introduced on top-of-the-range Fiestas at the last facelift, are carried over but the adoption of 14in wheels across the range allows them to be used on all models.

The sound quality on acceleration has been modelled and tuned to provide ‘the right psychological signals’ on acceleration: what Renault might call ‘va-va-voom’. A ‘drive by wire’ throttle – a first in a high volume Ford – allows better control of torque and improved driveability in traffic.

Value

Ford has been anxious to drive down the cost of ownership, of which the biggest element (not counting depreciation) is fuel. Ford claims the new models are up to 10% more fuel-efficient than the outgoing car.

The new Fiesta becomes the first Ford to get the brand-new all-aluminium turbo-diesel common rail engine the 1.4 litre TDCi which is the first new engine to come out of Ford’s collaboration on diesel design with Peugeot. Earlier this year, top-of-the-range Focus models were the first to be offered with the 1.8 TDCi, but that used Ford’s existing cast-iron block.

Like the 1.8 TDCi, the new engine uses a second generation common rail system, but in this case it is designed by Siemens rather than Delphi. Piezoelectric injectors allow precise control of the injection process, reducing noise and emissions of nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons and improving overall ‘refinement’.

Unusually for a diesel, the new engine is almost entirely aluminium. To compensate for aluminium’s inferior stiffness (compared with cast-iron) the cylinder block is made in two parts: the cylinders themselves, and a ‘bed plate’ containing the crankshaft bearings. For durability, the lower crankshaft bearings are the only part still made in cast-iron: these are cast into the bed plate.

The resulting engine is significantly lighter than previous diesels – in fact its weight is so similar to the petrol engines being offered in the range that none of the usual modifications to suspension settings have had to be made.

Servicing costs should be comparable to a petrol engine, with the first oil change not needed till 20,000km, and a camshaft drive belt designed to last the life of the engine thanks to an automatic tensioner.

Petrol engines start with a new entry-level 1.4 litre 8-valve single overhead camshaft unit which replaces the ageing pushrod unit, and continue with improved versions of the existing 1.4 and 1.6 litre 16-valve Duratecs. The 16-valve units have a new knock control system which optimises performance as well as compensating for variations in fuel quality.

A great deal has changed since the last new Fiesta was launched. Competition has intensified, with a new segment of sub-Fiesta hatchbacks carving out new market niches. Ford’s engineers believe the new Fiesta – and its spin-offs – will put the company firmly back in contention.

Sidebar: The new Fiesta plant in Cologne takes outsourcing to a whole new dimension

To build the new Fiesta, Ford says it is turning a brownfield plant in a Cologne suburb into a greenfield site. Cologne will start production of the new generation Fiesta on November 30.

It will be a poignant time from the perspective of the UK automotive sector. Like all the volume car makers, Ford had imperatives to adjust its capacity to demand in the region. The trade-off for the decisions to pour investment into Cologne is the demise of car manufacturing at Dagenham.

Ford will rely on four main plants for car assembly in western Europe – Cologne dedicated to small cars, Saarlouis on the Franco-German border for medium cars, Genk in Belgium for large cars and Valencia, Spain, as a flexible unit capable of building small and medium models, including Mazdas from 2003. Each assembly plant will be able to turn out 1,800 cars a day on three shift, or 405,000 a year, if there is sufficient demand, says Ford of Europe president David Thursfield.

The aim of the strategy is to raise Ford’s capacity utilisation from 71% two years ago – one of the worst levels in Europe – to close to 100% by the first quarter of next year. What Ford also has to do is offer the cars that customers want, when they want them. Company executives now admit they have failed these tests recently, but Thursfield says, ‘I’m convinced the new Fiesta will have the same impact on the markets of Europe as the Focus and Mondeo did.’

That’s fine if Thursfield is right. The thing that worries suppliers is if he’s wrong — as Ford was in the 1990s – because they are now required to take on much more of the financial risk involved in any new model. The extension of a machinery leasing arrangement, known by Ford as ‘pay on production’, is the most controversial aspect of the $500m renovation now taking place at Cologne and Valencia. It pushes the principles of outsourcing to new levels.

Leasing

The concept of outsourcing is not new. Delegating logistics and materials flow, as Ford has done at Cologne with Ferrostaal, is increasingly common. So is the use of suppliers to design, develop and build whole subsystems, which is the role being played by Faurecia for the Fiesta’s doors.

Then when Ford commissioned new paint shops in the mid-1990s, it introduced the principle of pay on production. The equipment was installed by suppliers who retained ownership even after the handover to Ford. Ford simply pays the supplier for each painted body. Now at Cologne and Valencia, the leasing concept has been extended to the press and body assembly shops. The machinery is owned by the supplier, and Ford pays for the units they produce.

The twin body lines at Cologne (and Valencia) use a pallet system that is capable of making three different versions of the Fiesta. In other words, says Ford, the same plant could make six different models based on the Fiesta with 100% flexibility.

Importantly, the system will eliminate downtime during future model changeovers. ‘In the past, we had a shut-down and production ramp-up for any new model. In future, the shutdown will be eliminated,’ says Antonio Ades, Valencia’s operations manager.

The Cologne rebuild further extends the Ford supplier park policy. Twelve major suppliers will be located on a 50,000m2 site. They will deliver 45% of the plant’s daily requirements, including fully built-up front-end modules, doors, suspensions and interiors, just in time and in sequence through a tunnel that stretches 800m to the final assembly line.

John Fleming, vice president of manufacturing for Ford in Europe, says the objective is to raise the proportion of cars built to customer order from the present 20-30% to 80% within the next three years.’We think this will become the benchmark for our competitors,’ he says.

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