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TOWN CAR ODYSSEY : In the redesign of its consummately American luxury sedan, Lincoln turned to Japan and Europe for help.

October 08, 1989|JAMES RISEN | Times Staff Writer

Ford engineers found that consistently high prototype quality resulted in unexpected dividends. It made it possible for the FN36 team to take care of minor glitches earlier and enabled them to tell how close to their quality targets they could come at the start of commercial production.

The early prototype sign-off proved to be the key to the success of the program. By January, 1989, the Town Car had gone from a year behind schedule to two weeks ahead of it.

Price Increased

Cost overruns, which were a serious concern in the summer of 1988, were also sharply reduced, most notably through changes that customers would never see, such as substituting less-expensive steel for aluminum in the drive shaft.

Still, the car's base price of $27,986, announced last Monday, was more than $600 higher than the tentative price that dealers were told to expect earlier in the summer.

Yet in the end, not only was the Job One deadline met, but so were quality objectives.

Ford's "Nova" team of internal quality auditors has been poring over the first few Town Cars off the line at Wixom, and FN36 engineers believe that they will find that the Town Car's quality will measure up to levels very near those of Mercedes, considered by Ford's internal studies to be the best in the luxury class. On an index measuring the number of "things gone wrong" per 1,000 cars, the Town Car is expected to come in at 1,400, not far behind the 1,200 average for Mercedes-Benz's 1988 fleet.

Meanwhile, wind-tunnel tests show that the Town Car may be the quietest car in the industry.

"I think we've hit a new level of quietness for the industry," says Glen Lyall, Town Car engineering manager. "I think we have exceeded all of our targets on the car."

So far, the Town Car also seems to be a hit in the marketplace. Despite a 3.3% price hike over 1989, Lincoln-Mercury dealers have already placed 30,000 orders for the 1990 car, and Ford expects to sell 135,000 in the coming year.

Now, even Don Petersen has become a fan; he took delivery for his personal use of two of the first 1990 models off of Wixom's assembly line.

And this weekend, Zeniuk and Lyall are in California to make a presentation to the editors of Motor Trend Magazine, where the Town Car has been nominated for Car of the Year honors.

"All of the top executives are now asking for post mortems," says Zeniuk. "Everybody wants to know why it worked."

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