Ford's Ambitious Plans for 2014: More Cars, Better Quality

Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) has an ambitious plan to introduce 23 new vehicles around the world this year. That is the most in a single year in the company’s history. These launches include the redesigned F-150 pickup, unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show, which features military-grade aluminum-alloy body panels that reduce the truck’s weight by nearly 700 pounds and improves fuel efficiency.

The Mustang sports car, another best seller for Ford, has also been revamped, and it will be sold globally for the first time.

This is part of a broader trend in the industry of launching more new vehicles at a faster clip than in years past. Since the 2009 economic downturn, major automakers have launched new models with fewer factories and a smaller supply base. A consequence of this is an elevated the risk of quality problems in the vehicles they produce.

That is an issue Ford has struggled with over the past few years. The company has fallen in key reliability surveys due to problems with some of its transmissions and its MyFord touch-screen dashboard system. The seven recalls of its Escape crossover since its launch in mid-2012 have been a black eye for Ford, costing it has much as $300 million last year. Last month, Ford warned that such costs would have an impact on its operating margin in North America for 2013.

But Ford is making an all-out push to stamp out problems that have dogged it of late. For instance, the company says it now spends more time conducting research before green lighting a vehicle design. The changes to Ford’s quality process are expected to continue throughout 2014.

Companies can bounce back from quality issues — more importantly the perception of quality issues — as Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) proved after problems with unintended acceleration in some of its models.

The U.S. auto market is expected to be more competitive this year as sales growth is likely to slow. A full line up of models is one way car makers try to stay competitive. Volkswagen, one of the largest automakers in the world, struggles in the United States in part because it has a smaller line up than competitors such as Ford and General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM).