Building the Perfect Beast

Posted on May 1, 1990

Little did Henry Ford know when he invented the automobile manufacturing assembly line in the early 1900s, the problems he created for the limousine industry.

Roy Radakovich, engineering and planning manager of the limousine conversion for Lincoln, has been instrumental in developing the Quality Vehicle Modifier's program.
Roy Radakovich, engineering and planning manager of the limousine conversion for Lincoln, has been instrumental in developing the Quality Vehicle Modifier's program.

Today, manufacturers examine their production process with close scrutiny. Every aspect in the construction of a limousine must be the most efficient and cost-effective method. The delicate balance between quality and quantity must be maintained.

In an effort to help sustain that balance, Lincoln-Mercury has developed a new quality control program designed to maintain high standards for coachbuilders in the production of stretch limousines. With the industry concern over coachbuilder compliance to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), the goals of the Quality Vehicle Modifiers (QVM) program are to spur the production of higher quality units and improve customer satisfaction. Participation in the program is voluntary.

The nuts and bolts of the QVM program involve inspections by Ford engineering officials of participating coachbuilders’ manufacturing facilities, minimum product liability requirements, and improved communication with Ford’s engineering and promotional departments. The plant inspections concentrate on overseeing the exact process of design and manufacturing control.

Ford engineers will be visiting coachbuilder facilities between March 1 and June 10 of this year with the participating members of the QVM program announced on August 1, 1990. After that date, Ford will establish an 800 telephone number to handle information calls from operators.

To unveil the ambitious project, Ford invited limousine conversion manufacturers to attend a QVM seminar on February 19 and 20 in Detroit. Eighteen coachbuilders or their representatives were on hand and 12 other manufacturers expressed interest in the program but were unable to attend the seminar. At the meeting, coachbuilders were given a detailed “Limousine Builders Guide for the Lincoln Town Car,” and had a chance to test drive a prototype for the new 1991 Town Car.

“Many of the coachbuilders are excited about the QVM program,” says Roy Radakovich, engineering and planning manager of limousine conversion for Lincoln. “Overall the program has been well received. For those who invested the time to come, they got a good basic knowledge of the QVM program.”

The basic benefits of the program for coachbuilders include:

  • Improved communication through distribution of engineering updates, trim, and color changes, selected technical service bulletins, and Ford dealer bulletins.
  • A direct facsimile line to limousine conversion activity at Ford. Information and updates will automatically be mailed or faxed to QVM builders.
  • Ford-promotions centered around the program and the benefits to users who purchase products manufactured by a QVM builder. Specific builders will not be advertised, but vehicle users will be able to call the Ford hotline to obtain a list of QVM builders. Participating manufacturers will be permitted to promote or advertise their QVM status after the program is announced to the limousine users.
  • Potential improvement to a coachbuilder’s performance and image.
  • Improved communication with the Ford Parts and Service Division, Lincoln-Mercury Division, and Car Programs Management.

Manufacturing Review

Ford engineers will utilize a 100-point rating system to analyze each coachbuilder. Those receiving more than 85 points in the evaluation will be awarded recognition as a QVM builder. Coachbuilders will be categorized by Ford into three areas: “QVM-Qualified” — a builder achieving Ford’s standards; “Not QVM Qualified” — inspected and did not meet the requirements; and “Not Evaluated” — builder was invited to participate. The evaluations by Lincoln personnel will emphasize the following system reviews:

  • Engineering capability and process
  • Build process and controls
  • Quality control process
  • Adherence to Ford guidelines
  • FMVSS and emissions compliance documentation
  • Management philosophy on quality and continuous improvement
  • Representative vehicles in process
  • Representative Town Car completed vehicle production (i.e. different lengths or models)
  • Use of Ford guidelines and industry standards for Ford vehicles other than Town Cars
  • Parts and service support systems

Ford stresses that the QVM program will not involve the analysis of each vehicles’ engineering, build or quality control specifications, process or parts, and there will not be an inspection of every vehicle produced.

Once qualified, a coachbuilder can use the QVM logo in advertisements, but will not be permitted to put the logo on its vehicles. Operators who do not qualify for the program will still be able to receive and stretch Lincoln Town Cars. In order to make the program attractive to coachbuilders. Ford may initiate some incentive programs for coachbuilders.

The reaction from the program has been upbeat according to Radakovich. “There has been some apprehension from a few coachbuilders. They think they may not be ready for this yet with all the NHTSA stuff happening,” he adds. Regarding the NHTSA investigation and the safety of limousines, the QVM program will not make any additional recommendations regarding length and weight of vehicles. However, Lincoln’s coachbuilder manual recommends that Town Cars be stretched no longer than 75 inches and have a GVW of no more than 7,100 pounds. These are the maximum sizes to which Ford engineers have conducted testing.

“If a manufacturer builds a limousine larger than this, I’m not saying it’s good or bad — only that I haven’t analyzed it,” Radakovich says. He believes it will be very expensive for coachbuilders to continue to certify longer limousines. “A coachbuilder needs to conduct his own testing and provide data to NHTSA of that testing in order to build a heavier limousine. Sometimes, we conduct 20 or 30 crash tests after we make structural changes to a vehicle. It may pass the first test, but it is expensive to keep trying.”

Quality Control Criteria for QVM

These are just some of the criteria used by Lincoln engineers when reviewing a coachbuilder’s manufacturing facility for the Quality Vehicle Modifier’s program. The inspection will look at production processes, quality control checks, customer support, and management technique.

  • Engineering drawings
  • Weight and electrical load analysis
  • Engineering innovations
  • Problem anticipation/prevention
  • FMVSS and emission requirements
  • Structural control and documentation
  • Control item characteristics
  • Engineering change control
  • Engineering specifications used to purchase parts consistent with Ford specification
  • Torque/welding specifications
  • Inspection/rejection procedures
  • Operator/foreman sign-off
  • Weld integrity
  • In-process testing performed for electrical, water/air/fluid leaks
  • Labeling
  • Road testing
  • Vehicle weight
  • Owners manual including electrical, supplier, and warranty information
  • Parts and service network and training
  • Regular communication with dealers, distributors, and partners
  • Production personnel training
  • Management monitoring
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