Ford is combining its car and truck product development operations with the appointment of Chris Theodore as vice president, North America product development.

Ford's car and truck groups currently report separately but, from October 1, both development operations will report to Theodore who, in turn, will report directly to Nick Scheele, group vice president North America and to Richard Parry-Jones, group vice president of global product development and chief technical officer.

The change has been widely rumoured in U.S. auto trade publications over the past week and was confirmed by Ford today (Thursday). Gurminder Bedi, currently Ford's vice president of truck product development, will retire after 30 years with the company.

"By combining the truck and car product development teams, we will have one common process for all products and increase focus on the customer," Scheele said.

"In an extremely competitive marketplace we need to be able to move quickly and utilise the talents of our people in all areas of the business."

Theodore will be responsible for product development for all Ford brand products in North America. Reporting to him will be Tom Baughman, executive director of the tough trucks group, Dee Kapur, executive director of the outfitters (SUVs) group and Mike Zevalkink, executive director of the car group. Al Ver, vice president, advanced manufacturing engineering, will also report to Theodore as well as to Jim Padilla, group vice president manufacturing.

This will allow the manufacturing team to work more closely with the product development team to optimise the relationship between the development and manufacturing of new products, Ford said in a statement.

Bedi has been vice president of the truck product development group since January, 1998. Theodore joined Ford in 1999 from Chrysler shortly after the merger with Daimler-Benz and has been vice president of Ford's car product development since March 1, 1999.

He was part of the team that recently reorganised the car and truck product development operations into teams or 'clusters' that share common components, technologies and engineering resources.