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Engineer keeps Ford's DNA healthy in each part, across every model - Detroit News
Karl Henkel
June 16, 2014

Dearborn — Larry Kummer likely has the most awesome auto job you’ve never heard of.

Heck, Kummer has the most awesome auto job he’s ever heard of.

It’s his job — as the eyes and ears of Ford Motor Co.’s self-described DNA — to drive Ford cars here, there and everywhere to ensure they look, feel and sound the same, whether a customer is in Russia, China or Dearborn.

Kummer’s official title is manager of vehicle integration, and to him it is “the coolest job in product development.” But he’s a sort of doctor of Ford’s DNA. He and his global team test vehicles on a variety of points, including driving dynamics, performance feel, seat comfort, powertrain sound and steering wheel feel and operation...

Getting the 'Ford flavor'
In the past decade, Ford has transformed its structure of building vehicles for each region of the world and now builds cars and crossovers that are nearly identical all across the globe.

“One of the first things we had to figure out was, ‘what is the Ford flavor? What are Ford products going to be known for in terms of their functional performance?’ ” the 52-year-old engineer said.

That has meant a rapidly expanding role for Kummer, who has to account for subtle regional and demographic driving preferences while keeping a Focus in the U.S. and a Focus in China mostly indistinguishable.

European drivers want a firmer driving feel, Indian drivers need higher ground clearance in case of flooding.

There are some vehicles — the F-150 and Mustang — which are legacy models that can deviate from the current Ford look, feel and sound. For instance, Mustang drivers love the throaty sound of a V-8 engine, but Fiesta drivers prefer as little engine noise in the cabin as possible.

Never-ending tweaks
But aside from those two iconic nameplates, Ford has a strict policy on making changes to the company’s vehicle DNA.

“The Ford DNA is essential for us to make vehicles people are thrilled to drive and own,” said Raj Nair, Ford’s product development chief. “Larry’s team has to get these product nuances right on every product launch worldwide. It’s hugely important.”

And only Nair can sign off on changes to the Ford DNA, Kummer said.

Kummer has had his title for six years, so he’s had a front-row seat to Ford’s massive vehicle lineup overhaul. But his work is never finished.

He says his team is constantly trying to improve the look, feel and sound of its cars, and each year surveys each of the Ford DNA features — using media criticisms, customer satisfaction surveys and internal data — to see where adjustments can be made...

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