By Andy Szal
As Ford Motor Company looks to rebound from the economic recession, its engineers believe fuel economy will drive the car market of the future.
With that in mind, the company is bringing its 2011 Ford Fiesta to the Greater Milwaukee Auto show as it kicks off this weekend. The previously European-only Fiesta is expected to hit showrooms this summer, and the lead engineer on the car — Milwaukee native Steve Pintar — tells WisBusiness.com that both consumers and dealers are so far “very enthusiastic.”
“Some of the trends we’re seeing, Fiesta really answers,” Pintar said. He touted the car’s class-leading 40 mph fuel economy on the highway, as well as technological, aesthetic and cost features that have sparked excitement at the car’s previous stops at auto shows in Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit.
Pintar said he met with representatives of three of Milwaukee area’s largest Ford dealerships, and said he came away encouraged with the prospects for the new line.
“The look and features on the car take you where you’re not giving up coming to a small car,” Pintar said.
Combined with upcoming overhauls to the company’s Explorer and Focus lines, Pintar said the company is poised to take off through “a lot of product action” going forward. He said Ford was able to survive last year’s recession — while their American rivals fell into bankruptcy — by maintaining a “laser focus” on their business and their products.
“We did have to borrow money, significant money, to get us through this last downturn where sales and employment was down. And we still have to work through that,” Pintar said. “But we’ve stayed focused on the product and keeping the business being profitable.”
He said part of that plan includes Wisconsin companies such as Johnson Controls, which serves as a Ford supplier in the Midwest while complementing its global ambitions. The Milwaukee-based auto parts company signed a deal last year to supply starter batteries, electronic systems and seats to the Focus line.
“For our overall product sourcing and product engineering, we want to be global,” Pintar said. “We are seeing the need to make sure we have that technology close at hand here in the Midwest.”
Pintar said with the flood of new product lines the company is adhering to very strict engineering standards — both at the parts and final product level — to ensure the safety of the cars in the wake of the Toyota recall debacle.
“We’ve got a lot of new products, but we’re spending a lot of time ensuring that we’re going through our standards,” Pintar said. “It’s consistency and attention to detail.”
The UW-Madison graduate also reflected on his mechanical engineering degree, saying it provided “tremendous help” in both the theory and practice of engineering and automaking. Pintar said he’s taking in Milwaukee’s higher education engineering programs while home for the auto show, with visits scheduled for the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and UW-Milwaukee. He praised MIAD for its work with Harley-Davidson and other manufacturers in providing real-world experience for its design students.
“Wisconsin has a great education system and great educational opportunities that are still very practical and very advanced,” Pintar said.