Ford Motor Company is expanding its successful data sharing partnership with the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) to six additional vehicle lines. Ford is adding the Ford Focus, Escape, Windstar, Explorer Sport Trac and Explorer Sport, and the all-new 2002 Explorer, opening the door for higher-quality aftermarket performance parts and accessories for these vehicles.

With the addition of these vehicles, Ford Motor Company and SEMA enter into the second phase of a pilot program that started in 1999 with the Ford Mustang. Ford became the first automaker to execute such a program as a way to boost customer satisfaction.

This means that an aftermarket supercharger maker, for example, will be able to integrate his performance part as an easy bolt on, while maintaining engine and transmission compatibility and emissions compliance. The same goes for mass air sensors and fuel injector parts. These performance enhancing parts can now be produced in a more efficient, timely manner with higher quality and durability.

"This arrangement is an excellent way for us to better establish a grass-roots connection with customers who enjoy customizing their vehicles," said Bob Rewey, group vice president, Global Consumer Services and North America.

"Rather than ignore these enthusiasts, we are making this important data available to SEMA manufacturers who can use it to build higher quality aftermarket parts that consumers want in a quicker manner."

Last year, Ford Motor Company provided SEMA with an array of technical data for the Mustang GT, including two-dimensional parts drawings for the entire vehicle, body, chassis, electrical system and powertrain. Armed with these component dimensions, electrical schematics and 4.6-liter engine drawings, accessory and performance parts makers were able to provide Ford customers with parts that could integrate with the vehicle in the best way possible.

This initiative also includes a process for calibrating components, which is every bit as important, if not more, than the first phase of providing technical data and drawings. As there are only so many places an aero kit manufacturer can bolt a part on a Mustang, it's a whole different ballgame when it involves computer chips, superchargers and exhaust system enhancements that are ahead of the catalytic converter.

"There is a lot more technology involved and multiple system impacts with these types of parts," said Carl Sheffer, SEMA vice president, OEM relations. "Multiple engine management systems impact air flow, fuel delivery systems and emissions requirements that are much more technical than locating points for accessories."

Ford and SEMA chose the Mustang last year to launch the sharing initiative because more than 30 percent of Mustang owners already personalize their cars. This allowed SEMA manufacturers to design components around the car, providing Mustang enthusiasts with better fitting appearance packages, such as body kits, wheels and even floor mats.

For SEMA manufacturers, the data allows these companies to bring performance or appearance parts more quickly to market. In the past, SEMA manufacturers would have to "reverse engineer" the vehicle to produce their parts. For example, a company that makes floor mats would have to buy or rent a Mustang to get the dimensions they need. Today that same company can download the floor pan design of the Mustang and then design a mat to fit the car perfectly.

The same was true for wheel manufacturers trying to design a great looking aftermarket wheel. A visit to a new car dealership when a new model debuted wasn't uncommon for most SEMA wheel manufacturers who then had to get permission from a dealer to crawl around an all-new vehicle to obtain proper measurements for lug nut configurations, brake caliper clearance, suspension component dimensions and such. This, however, sometimes resulted in a less than perfect wheel design, which hurt customer satisfaction.

"The Ford/SEMA technology initiative provides aftermarket manufacturers with access to technical drawings that allow wheel manufacturers to produce wheels more precisely and accurately, improving customer satisfaction," Sheffer said. "This again demonstrates Ford Motor Company's commitment to customer satisfaction and being consumer friendly."

Since the launch of the initiative in May 1999, more than 160 companies registered and downloaded more than 900 files, including one company that was able to use the information to develop an intake manifold for a supercharger kit for the 4.6-liter engine in the Mustang.

For the people who make Mustang parts, the first phase has drawn overwhelming response. The expansion this year to include six more vehicles will further enhance the success of this industry leading initiative. "There has been a lot of activity by SEMA manufacturers since we began this last year," Sheffer said. "This program is still in its infancy. However, with the expansion to include other Ford models, this initiative creates greater opportunities across a wider segment of our industry."