The issue of interior air quality is one that is going to become increasingly important, especially as the concentration on vehicle interiors continues to be a focus of attention among vehicle manufacturers. According to the “2006 Automotive Plastics Report” from the Ecology Center (Ann Arbor; www.ecocenter.org), Ford Motor Co. is doing the best job in terms of addressing interior air quality. In this specific metric, Ford receives a grade of B, which actually is the top of the class. Toyota and Nissan follow, with grades of C+ and C-, respectively. The other manufacturers in the study—Honda, Hyundai, GM, DaimlerChrysler, and Volkswagen receive what our teachers called “failing” grades—D or less.
This quality metric is part of a study of plastics due to the proliferation of plastics on and within vehicles. In the case of interiors, that “new car smell” is associated with out-gassing and can, consequently, have a deleterious effect on some people with allergies. One of the key reasons why Ford has achieved the top mark is because of its initiating a certification process through a third party, TÜV Rhineland Group (www.tuv.com/de/en/index.html). It’s the organization’s “Allergy-Free” standard, which limits the concentration of organic substances including formaldehyde, phthalates, and halogenated hydrocarbons.
Ford of Europe is using what is called a “Product Sustainability Index” (PSI) during its product development process. This index tracks eight product attributes:
- Life cycle global warming potential (e.g., C02 emissions)
- Life cycle air quality potential (e.g., other emissions)
- Use of sustainable—as in recycled and renewable—materials
- Exterior noise impact (think: noise pollution)
- Safety, both occupant and pedestrian
- Mobility capability (i.e., what the capacity is vis-à-vis vehicle size)
- Life cycle ownership costs
- Vehicle interior air quality
As Joe Bakaji, vice president, product development, Ford of Europe, put it: “We need fundamentally to reassess the way we do business, putting sustainability at the heart of everything we do. That requires nothing less than a complete and radical change of mindset—not only for Ford but for the whole motor industry.”
This commitment to interior air quality is evidence of the sort of change he is talking about. So far, the Ford Focus (European model), Focus C-MAX, S-MAX, and Galaxy models have achieved the TÜV Rhineland “Allergy-Tested Interior” seal of approval. The plan at Ford of Europe is to get “as many existing and future models as possible certified.”
While having fixed gauges and static measuring machines are crucial to assure production quality, sometimes you’ve got to practice what’s called “genchi genbutsu” in the Toyota Production System: “go-see.” Which requires portability. Here are a couple of examples of tools that can help:
- SPC On-Site. The Synergy 200 from Zontec (Cincinnati; www.zontec-spc.com) is a portable statistical process control (SPC) system. It uses a 1.7-lb. Samsung Q1 Ultra Mobile PC running Windows XP Pro Tablet Edition. It features a 900 MHz Intel Celeron processor, has a 7-in. touch screen display, and a 40-GB hard drive. Shop floor measurement devices can be connected to the unit via USB ports. The SPC software provides data analysis that can be used to make production decisions.
- Portable Surface Analysis. Although the Pocket Surf PS1 from Mahr Federal (Providence, RI; www.mahr.com) weighs just 14 oz., it has the ability to measure more than 24 surface finish parameters, including Ra and Rz. It’s battery operated and can make as many as 500 measurements before recharging. It provides a measuring range of up to 350 µm and has an extremely low measuring force: 0.7 mN. A USB interface allows connection to a PC for data transfer.
What Do Consumers Say?
The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) takes quality into account in its assessment of what consumers think. Developed at the Stephen M. Ross Business School at the University of Michigan by the National Quality Research Center, led by Claes Fornell, the ACSI looks at three indices: perceived quality, customer expectations, and perceived value, which then is used to determine customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction, in turn, drives both customer complaints and customer loyalty.
Within the ACSI Methodology, "Perceived Quality" is defined as "a measure of the customer's evaluation via a recent consumption experience of the quality of a company's products or services. Quality is measured in terms of both customization, which is the degree to which a product or service meets the customer's individual needs, and reliability, which is the frequency with which things go wrong with the product or service."
Naturally, the auto industry is one of those examined. In its most recent analysis, the auto industry achieved its highest level, 81, on a 100-point scale. Another positive is that compared to the numbers for 2005, it is determined that the satisfaction increase was predicated on quality improvements, not incentives, as was the case in '05. Topping the list: Toyota, at 87. It is followed by Buick, Honda, and Lexus (its first appearance on the ACSI), all at 86.
One disturbing note in the ACSI analysis: "As more dissatisfied car owners are leaving Detroit in favor of the more satisfying foreign competition, the net effect is higher overall customer satisfaction for the industry as a whole." However, not all non-domestic brands make people happy: Kia scored a low 77. But, it should be noted, it isn't alone at that level, as Jeep and Ford are there, too.
Says David VanAmburg, managing director, ASCI, "For manufactured products of all kinds, quality of the product is tantamount to the satisfaction of the customer. In the automobile industry, product quality plays a bigger role in impacting satisfaction than does either service or price. A company like Toyota is on top in ACSI because its vehicle quality is also rated tops in the industry, while Ford scored at the bottom on satisfaction directly as a result of the quality of its autos being rated lowest."