Q: Ford’s engineering site has been present in Mexico for decades now, but what were the original reasons for establishing it in the country?
A: Our Mexican R&D operations started in 1964 with a small team of about 180 engineers. Back then, most of the workload was focused on design and localization to address the unique needs of the domestic market. In 2006, Ford decided to learn more about its global customers, taking advantage of local talent and lower operating costs. From that moment on, we decided to expand our capabilities to 1,250 engineers, which made our R&D center the largest in Mexico for any automotive OEM and one of the largest in Latin America. We are currently developing systems and components for the US, South America, Asia, and Europe, including technology for vehicles that will soon be released in those respective markets.
Q: Ford’s engineering facilities in Cuautitlan and Santa Fe have grown considerably over the past few years, but which areas have seen the most development?
A: Our growth has been exponential since 2001, with the addition of 150-200 engineers annually to our team. These are talented professionals, who have been able to develop new methods of engineering, and are very knowledgeable regarding new technologies, such as computer-aided design and simulation. These tools allow them to carry out virtual assessments for crashworthiness, fuel economy, emissions, durability, noise, vibration, and harshness, among other tests. We are currently the third innovation center in the world regarding disclosures and patents, with only the US and Germany ahead of us. Even though both countries have a much larger pool of engineers, we are rapidly approaching the same level. The responsibility we now have for electric and electronic components is growing significantly. We are in charge of 20 electronic modules, as well as Electrical Architectures and Electronic Distribution Systems (EDS) for vehicles that will be released in the near future.
Q: What new technologies has Ford added to its facilities to further improve the design capabilities of your engineers?
A: We have invested heavily in tools and infrastructure, since we need to provide our engineers with the best tools available. Our experts have the latest software licenses for computer-aided design and computer-aided engineering, and every year we invest almost US$6 million on new testing facilities. Our Cuautitlan facility is conditioned with a test track and an emissions lab for exhaust and evaporative emissions, as well as environmental chambers for testing component durability under extreme temperatures. We have close to 500 engineers in Cuautitlan, in addition to the 700 we have in Santa Fe. Our Santa Fe facility focuses on CAD design, as well as body interior and body exterior engineering. Meanwhile, Cuautitlan houses our powertrain, electrical and electronic systems engineering, chassis, vehicle evaluation and verification, and vehicle engineering groups.
Q: What have been the main product developments that these centers have achieved?
A: We have developed components for products that are already on the market, such as the Ford Expedition and the Ford Navigator. Both vehicles recently received accolades for Best-In Segment Vehicle from J.D. Power, and they both got five stars in terms of crashworthiness, which was thanks to a feature engineered in Mexico. Both our powertrain and vehicle assembly facilities come across as the best in North America, and we are outperforming many other Ford R&D centers around the world. Generally speaking, 95-98% of Ford’s vehicles are identical, regardless of the region, which enables economies of scale and the improved efficiency of our operations. Nevertheless, we have to be extremely careful with the remaining parts. In Mexico, 65% of Ford vehicles sold will be used at altitudes of 5,000-7,300ft. These surroundings will make a naturally aspirated engine lose 20-30% of the engine’s torque, forcing us to redesign the product based on the environmental conditions of the domestic market.
Q: With Mexico expecting a potential bottleneck in automotive human talent, how is Ford helping to educate better engineers for the country?
A: We have created a program called Ford Motor Company Ambassadors, where our top level engineers and professionals are assigned to certain universities. They host conferences to help students understand basic engineering and design topics, as well as challenges that we are currently facing in the industry.