Ford Design Initiative Focuses on Making Vehicles More Damage Resistant
INKSTER, MI --- Ford is opening a technology center in Inkster, MI., dedicated to finding design solutions and repair procedures that will lower repair costs and ultimately drive down auto insurance premiums.
The new Ford Paint and Body Technology Center in Inkster will leverage the combined expertise of Ford's repair and safety experts, auto repair technicians and insurance companies. Ford's goal is developing affordable, innovative vehicle designs, replacement parts and repair procedures that lower the cost to fix a damaged vehicle.
"Our bottom line for this new initiative is simple: If your vehicle costs less to repair, it's going to cost less to insure," said Darryl Hazel, president of Ford's customer service division. "The work Ford will perform at the new Paint and Body Technology Center will help reduce insurers' repair costs so they can drive down auto insurance premiums for consumers."
Ford's new Paint and Body Technology Center is funded by a $650,000 investment made by collision repair product, equipment and service suppliers. Those partners, along with insurance companies, are collaborating with Ford by providing repair recommendations early in a new vehicle's development. They also will use the facility to train certified repair technicians.
"It's great that Ford gets insurance industry insight about how to improve repairability of its vehicle designs," said Mark Woirol, project manager with Allstate Insurance Co.'s Tech-Cor Applied Research Center, which works with automakers, insurers and repairers to make cars more damage-resistant and repair methods more cost-efficient. "We've never been as involved in an automaker's product development process as we have since Ford invited us to participate."
Ford's Paint and Body Technology Center is merging operations with Ford's existing Safety Crash Test Analysis building.
The goal is to identify potential repair issues and refine designs to help dealers and other auto repairers more affordably repair vehicles to pre-accident condition, ensuring safety and quality. Many new affordable repair designs are expected to be designed into vehicles earlier in development so they can be analyzed during crash and durability testing.
After crashes, the repair engineering team works to develop specific repair procedure recommendations for body shops.
Ford repair and safety engineers first began collaborating on the new 2009 Ford F-150. During the early development period, engineers realized new materials -- including ultra-high-strength steel and boron -- made the new truck safer, but also could make it more expensive to repair after a collision.
"The extensive use of advanced technologies and materials in the 2009 F-150 required specific procedures and repair recommendations for the industry," said Gerry Bonanni, Ford collision repair senior engineer.
To address the issue, Ford developed special front and rear frame section kits that can be used rather than having to replace the entire frame. Partial frame repairs cost at least $2,000 less than full frame replacements and will save vehicles that before may have been totaled based on some state repair laws.
The success of the collaboration on repair procedures for the F-150 led to the decision to open the new facility.
"We're now able to prepare repair procedure manuals in advance for all of our new vehicles," said Mark Albrant, customer service engineering supervisor. "This effort saves insurers repair costs so they can reduce consumers' auto insurance premiums. At the same time, repairs can be done with safety-approved procedures that help ensure the vehicle's quality is restored."
Ford said it recognizes that affordability, including insurance costs, is a key concern for consumers. In 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that Ford had more collision insurance cost segment leaders than any other automakers. And, four of its cars and trucks are on Insure.com's Top 10 Least Expensive Vehicles to Insure list, which is more than any other automaker.
According to the Highway Loss Data Institute, the four-door 2008 Ford Focus saw a 13 percent improvement in average insurance loss payments compared to the 2007 model as a result of design improvements.
"The work that Ford's repairability experts already have done with Ford's safety engineers has made the Focus's bumper bigger and stronger to better protect adjacent components," said Larry Coan, Ford damageability engineer. "The new Paint and Body Technology Center will allow us to develop even more affordable repairs before vehicles launch."
Ford said it also helped to reduce insurance premiums for Mustang owners by making improvements to the car's overall repairability based on consultation with insurance industry repairability experts. The cost of insuring a 2008 Mustang is approximately 25 percent lower than it was on 2006 models and 50 percent lower than on 2004 models, according to a leading U.S. insurance company.
In addition, Ford said it is significantly reducing prices for genuine Ford replacement collision parts to its dealers and repair shops. In 2008, Ford reduced prices on more than 6,000 of its highest volume replacement parts.
The use of genuine Ford parts ensures the same quality, fit, structural integrity, corrosion resistance and dent resistance of Ford's original parts, as well as helping ensure proper functionality of safety systems damaged in accidents, the automaker said.
"When customers take their vehicles in for collision repair, they want their vehicles to be returned to pre-accident condition, using the same quality parts that were on the vehicle when it was built," said George Gilbert, manager of FCSD's collision parts truckload program. "By enabling more of our dealers to stock genuine Ford parts, we're better able to satisfy our customers’ needs."