Ford quality chief retires as CEO tries to boost reliability

By TOM KRISHER
AP Auto Writer

DETROIT (AP) _ Ford Motor Co.’s top quality executive is retiring as the company continues to struggle with high warranty claims and reliability issues.

Stuart Rowley, chief transformation and quality officer, is leaving after 32 years with the company. He’ll be replaced by Jim Baumbick, who is now vice president of product development operations and internal combustion engine programs, the company said Wednesday.

“Quality is our No. 1 priority as a company, and Jim Baumbick is the right leader to deliver world-class quality and reliability at Ford,” CEO Jim Farley said in a statement.

Farley has complained about quality, warranty claims, recalls and problems with launching new vehicles since his appointment as chief executive two years ago.

At the company’s annual shareholders meeting in May, Farley said the problems are affecting Ford’s financial performance, but also causing pain for customers.

“We’ve made more progress on our launch quality and initial quality, you could see it in the surveys and our ramp-up of production,” Farley said at the meeting. “However, we are not satisfied at all with our quality performance, including our recalls and customer satisfaction efforts, which we need to quickly accelerate. ”

He said fixing the problems will require new talent, which the company has, as well as a culture shift and better processes for engineering, manufacturing and supply chain management. “It’s very frustrating for our customers, and so we’re doing everything we can to accommodate them with the right policies to support them when they do have a problem, and rest assured this management team is completely committed to fixing our gap to competition and return the company to being benchmark,“ he said.

Ford’s statement said Josh Halliburton, who was hired in January from survey and data analysis company J.D. Power to be executive director of quality, will report to Baumbick.

The move, Ford said, will integrate quality improvement work in design, engineering, manufacturing and the supply chain.

Rowley will retire Dec. 1 after more than three decades with the automaker, where he held multiple positions including chief operating officer for North America, president of Ford Europe.

The change is among several management moves the company announced Wednesday.

Joy Falotico, president of the Lincoln luxury brand, will retire after 33 years with the company. She’ll be replaced by Dianne Craig, now president of the International Markets Group.

Steven Armstrong, vice president for the India and South America transformation, also will retire, after 35 years with Ford.

The moves come at a time of profound change that Farley is leading at Ford, including separating the company into electric vehicle and internal combustion units.

In August the company let go of 3,000 white collar workers to cut costs and help make the long transition from combustion vehicles to those powered by batteries.

Governments across the globe are pushing to eliminate combustion automobiles to mitigate the impact of climate change. Companies like Ford are orchestrating the wind-down of their combustion businesses over multiple years, even though they are still generating the cash to fund electric vehicle development.