LESSONS FROM MAZDASPEED
New Ford Motor Company (R) Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally reportedly studied the collaborative process championed by Ford Taurus engineer Lew Veraldi and applied it to the development of the Boeing 777. See, James P. Lewis, Working Together: 12 Principles for Achieving Excellence in Managing Projects, Teams and Organizations.
To some, Mulally's study of the Taurus Way exemplifies his precise, straightforward, diplomatic and decisive method of management. He's been described as one who--as the cliche' goes--"thinks outside the box."
Mulally and his two likely successors-in-waiting, Mark Fields and Mark Schulz, now ought to study another example: Mazda's factory skunkworks -- Mazdaspeed.
The October 2006 issue of Sport Compact Car magazine [SCC] provides an inside glimpse at the development of the next big thing in the world of tuner cars--the 2007 Mazdaspeed3. But more importantly, it illustrates how a small, tightly knit team of experienced professionals can achieve greatness, if permitted by their corporate sponsors.
Mazdaspeed's entire team reportedly could fit inside a single Ford E-350 Econoline passenger van! According to the SCC report, Mazdaspeed only has THREE U.S. employees and another "dozen or so supporting program engineers in Japan." See, SCC at 67.
But Mazdaspeed's members have top qualifications for developing exemplary sporting machines. U.S. leader Tod Kaneko is a former Garrett turbocharger engineer with race team support experience in the IRL, CART, IMSA and a reportedly "informal" avocation as a well-known SoCal street racer. U.S. Marketing manager Derrick Ige is a former crew chief for Dan Gurney's AAR racing team, a former concept car builder with Metalcrafters, and has worked with Porsche and Nissan racing teams as well. U.S. engineer Takahro "Koby, Jr." Kobyakawa is an original Mazdaspeed engineer from Japan and is the son of the Mazda engineer who developed the FD RX-7 and the LeMans-winning 787B racer.
Anyone seeing a pattern here? It takes hard core "car guys" to develop a "car guys' car."
The development of the 2007 Mazdaspeed3 ought to also interest Mulally and the Glass House gang. When development began, the best car in class was DCX's Neon-based SRT-4, which developed 230 horsepower and 250 lbs/ft. of torque. But instead of just matching the SRT-4, Mazdaspeed benchmarked a whole series of competitors: SRT-4, Acura RSX Type S, Subaru WRX, Volkswagen GTI (Mark IV) and even the not-available-in-the-U.S.A. Ford Focus RS. Mazdaspeed also benchmarked "stretch targets," which were cars technically outside the Mazdaspeed3's price class but would be competitors on the tracks and streets--Subaru WRX STI and Mitsubishi Lancer EVO.
The development lessons here are that the market isn't stagnant and you "stay on offense" by benchmarking the best and bringing new technology down to lower price classes. This builds value, anticipates market developments and advances the state-of-the-art.
Mazdaspeed's benchmarking stands in stark contrast to FoMoCo's usual "just good enough or a little better" practice. See, e.g. 300 h.p. Mustang GT (engineered with the knowledge of GM's 300+ horsepower LSx V8s and continuing a 10-year-long-trend of being down on horsepower and torque to GM). It also guts a fallacy that's popular among some FoMoCo defenders, who often object that using "stretch target" benchmarking isn't reasonable or even possible.
The 2007 Mazdaspeed3 also benefitted from world-class development practices. For example, the car was initially developed at Mazda's Miyoshi Proving Grounds. Then Mazdaspeed took it to the Mine and Tsukuba racing circuits in Japan. But they didn't stop there. Mazdaspeed took prototypes to Germany for Autobahn testing and development at the famed Nurburgring. In the U.S.A. Mazdaspeed has tested its prototypes on the streets, at Buttonwillow racing circuit and finally at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. Such arduous testing is necessary to produce a properly balanced and adequately durable performance car. FoMoCo could also learn from this emphasis on testing under "world performance" conditions. (How many U.S. Fords have been developed for Autobahn durability?)
And Mazdaspeed didn't stop there. Already under development and instrumented track testing by Mazdaspeed and accessories engineer Jonathan Butts are prototype lightened wheels, camber links and a coil-over conversion kit. Development and introduction of "speed parts" contemporaneously with the introduction of a new model spurs tuner interest and further aftermarket development. This model was first suggested in 1953 by Zora Arkus-Duntov (See link in right-hand column) and has served GM well for over 50 years. Although FoMoCo has sometimes employed similar tactics--most recently with the FRPP "Power Packs" for the Mustang GT, increased integration between aftermarket accessory parts and OEM development would likely pay significant dividends in "street cred" and aftermarket interest in Ford products.
According to the SSC report, the results are impressive. Using the off-the-shelf 2.266 liter MZR DSI turbocharged four-cylinder from the Mazdaspeed6 and CX-7 CUV, Mazdaspeed3 will come to market with 263 horsepower at 5,500 r.p.m. and 280 lbs/ft of torque at 3,000 r.p.m. (the MZR's output dropped slightly from 274 horsepower due to compromises necessary to fit the engine in the smaller Mazda3 platform). Redline is at 6,700 r.p.m. The power production is from the combination of direct fuel injection, a 9.7:1 compression ratio and a Warner-Hitachi K04 turbocharger puffing approximately 16 psi above atmospheric into a top-mounted air/air intercooler. The power gets to ground through the front wheels using a Tochigi Fuji Conical-Seat limited slip differential in a six-speed dual-layshaft manual transaxle with a 3.50:1 final drive and an electronic PCM torque management system.
The whole package will start at an M.S.R.P. of $22,290. But with a U.S. allocation of only 5,000 units, supplies may be tight and additional dealer markups are foreseeable.
The Mazdaspeed3 isn't perfect, though. It's heavy at 3,153 pounds, falling well short of the 10 lbs/horsepower benchmark that separates legendary performance cars from merely respectable ones. And it's fitted with fashionable, yet heavy 18-inch diameter wheels, when objective testing will show lighter, smaller wheels will adequately clear the brakes and perform better in autocross competition. Realities of assembly-line production also prevented Mazdaspeed from fitting the 3 with a more-efficient (and more stylish) front-mounted intercooler. Moreover, as a front-engined, front-wheel-drive car, it will understeer significantly under power and likely transfers at least 40% of its weight to the non-driving rear axle under heavy acceleration. The inherent performance limitations of FWD require electronic torque reduction in the lower gears for driveablilty. And despite Mazdaspeed's stretching of the performance envelop, the upcoming Caliber-based SRT-4 is coming to market with 300 h.p. in a red-hot, American-built package, which is sure to provide serious competition for Mazdaspeed3.
Still, in light of FoMoCo's tepid commitment and ongoing mismanagement of its SVT skunkworks, the strikeout of the Volvo-based D3 platform (Five Hundred/Montego/Freestyle), and "single-bagger" "hit" of the underpowered, Mazda-based, Mexican-assembled CD-3 sedans (Fusion/Milan/Zephyr/MKZ) , Alan Mulally and his crew could learn a lot from a little van-load of rabid "car guy" engineers at Mazdaspeed about how to develop world-class products on a limited budget.