Ford Motor Co., criticized by dealers for reducing warranty repair times and compensation, will establish a panel of technicians to review repair procedures.
Dealers and technicians still are smarting over guidelines enacted in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
One dealer said a Ford executive told him that the changes resulted in a 24-percent reduction in the time allotted for warranty repairs. Ford said that's too high.
Many technicians said some standards are impossible to meet. This means they might get paid, hypothetically, for one hour on a job that takes 80 minutes.
Some technicians are so upset that they are trying to unionize dealership shops.
Ford now is scheduled to implement another round of changes in the repair procedures in November, a delay from its intended October timing.
The delay will give the new 40-person committee of technicians the time to review those changes, said Francisco Codina, Ford's new vice president of customer service.
Ford officials said the proposed changes address less than 1 percent of all repair procedures.
Dealers had worried that the proposed changes would more broadly reduce repair times and dealer warranty revenue, which already is decreasing because of quality gains.
Mr. Codina, who was promoted to his job on July 29, said he is taking a collaborative approach.
The technicians ``have over time proved that they are very resourceful in the way they do repairs, and we want to learn from them,'' Mr. Codina said. ``I want to make sure, and the dealers want to make sure, that they have a voice in the system-and they're going to get one.''
The panel, which will cover Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealerships, will include at least two technicians from each of the auto maker's 17 regions, plus two representing small, or select, dealers.
Another four will be chosen on an at-large basis. The selections will be made in the next few weeks.
The panel first will review 500 to 1,500 proposed changes now on the table, Mr. Codina said. Some are clear-cut, he said, such as a modifying the repair for a vent in a Ford Taurus so that the instrument panel no longer must be removed. The technicians would go through hands-on exercises to validate other procedures.
After the proposals are reviewed, technicians could then challenge existing standards for which they say times are tough to meet. The authority of the panel remains unclear.
While Ford officials said the company will consider the technicians' input, they haven't determined whether new procedures must pass the panel's time tests.
Still, dealers are enthused about Mr. Codina's cooperative attitude. Warranty work represents about 20 percent of the average dealership's parts and service revenue and 2.4 percent of total revenue, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. And with Ford reducing its warranty costs 20 percent this year, on top of a 20-percent reduction in 2002, dealers are sensitive to any warranty revenue issues.
``This was huge. We've been asking for this for many years,'' said Michael Kennedy of John Kennedy Ford in Feasterville, Pa., chairman of the Ford Division National Dealer Council.
``We were always concerned the company had this process for coming up with labor times, and it was done behind closed doors in a vacuum,'' he said. ``But now they've opened the doors, and the process is going to be transparent, and they're going to let our technicians be a part of the process.''