Even with high gasoline prices, U.S. consumers still want high-quality vehicles that haul a lot of people and perform well, and that is forcing automakers to make radical changes in the way they manufacture vehicles, panelists at an industry conference said Monday.
Speaking at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars recently, executives from Toyota Motor Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC said they were rapidly changing their operations to keep up with the market while trying to improve quality at the same time.
Customers now have such high expectations that automakers are under simultaneous pressures to cut costs, improve productivity, raise quality and speed new models to the market more quickly, panelists said.
"The market is telling us to change and to change right now," said Bennie Fowler, Ford's group vice president for global quality.
All three executives said their companies were responding by fitting their plants to build multiple models, listening to employees who make quality-improvement suggestions and trying to save money by using less energy. All have cut factory production of pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles while trying to increase small car output.