Ramblings for Nov. 15, 1999

November 15, 1999

SEMA afterbytes

At the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association show a week ago in Las Vegas, there was a pronounced shift to the smaller and thriftier cars of the future. Sure, trucks still rule the aftermarket modification market, with almost a third of the money spent on dressing up and modifying these vehicles. But with the hot rodder’s favorite V-8 no longer widely available, speed merchants have turned to high-revving four-cylinder pocket rockets.

The Cosworth Focus won’t be coming here, but a tuned Focus R is a likely candidate for production.

For the first time ever, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda and Mitsubishi had official displays, and Ford and Dodge showed special small models. Young folks in Southern California have a reputation for stuffing the most powerful Acura engines into the smallest Civics, but this approach to minimalized performance has become popular in all parts of the country. Ford has a potent all-wheel-drive Cosworth version of the Focus that is a winning fixture in World Rally competition, but has indicate that it will not be coming here. Instead, we are likely to get something like the Focus R, blessed by the Special Vehicle Team boffins. Dodge is anxious to cement their performance image with the new NASCAR announcement, and has turned some of their young engineers loose with a Neon. The result is 240 hp in a shortened package, with the nose bobbed into a shape similar to that of the original concept car. This is the trend of the future, and not only have modifiers shown skills that improve power and speed, but also fuel economy and even emissions.

Ford goes mass-market with bolt-ons

In the wake of their announcement that they would work with Microsoft Carpoint to streamline their consumer ordering process, Ford has followed up with two other initiatives that will benefit buyers. Ford is launching its version of mass customization to provide customers products faster. "At Ford Motor Company, mass customization equals

innovation, customer satisfaction, speed to market and quality," Bob Rewey, group vice president, Marketing, Sales and Service said. "This initiative provides product excitement, allows us to respond quickly to customer wants and gives customers more choices from Ford — allowing us to offer the kinds of options the customer previously has had to go to the aftermarket to buy."

Mass customized vehicles are limited-edition, specialty or "themed" vehicles based on current production models. Two examples at SEMA were a Focus and a F-150 SuperCrew truck with specialty wheels, body parts, electronics and convenience features from outside the normal catalog. Frequently companies have worked with suppliers like Saleen or American Sunroof Corporation to create limited product runs, or certain dealers have created their own packages like the fabled Royal Bobcat Pontiacs or Hurst Oldsmobiles. Now it appears that the new process will allow a dealer or group to easily create their own small production run.

This is likely to be made easier by AutoXchange, an integrated online supply chain joint venture between Ford Motor Company and Oracle Corporation. The venture will initially facilitate Ford's $80 billion in annual purchasing transactions with its more than 30,000 suppliers and $300 billion extended supply chain. This is expected to dramatically reduce Ford's purchasing costs and increase its operating efficiencies, allowing a reduction in time to market.

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