Visteon says it has dramatically changed the way it develops new products since being spun off by Ford Motor Co. in 2000.

The former in-house components division previously focused on long-term R&D for a single customer. But Visteon executives say they’ve learned how to quickly and efficiently deliver technologies that appeal to its new customer base outside Ford.

As a result, Visteon has sharply reduced the number of five-year plus programs that it is working on and raised the number of new product programmes that are completed within three years.

“Since we were spun off we have really concentrated on improving the overall focus and accelerating the speed with which we bring products and ideas to commercialisation,” says John Kill, vice president for product development.

Visteon says it now focuses on immediate customer benefits. The company has halved the time it takes to get a product from idea to customer approach.

The process has in part been driven by a customer-facing organisation Visteon adopted three years ago.

When Visteon was spun off, Kill says, “we had too much focus on potential new products and technologies that would be coming into play five years or more away. We really needed to shift that.”

Visteon benchmarked companies inside and outside of the automotive industry to learn how they guide their product development processes.

Spending less

Visteon has reduced its R&D spending level over the last three years. But at the same time Kill says, “we’ve got the metrics to say that we are developing more new products than we did three years ago. We are able to handle more programmes than we ever did.”

The company is now winning over one-fifth of its new business based on new product technology, says Kill.
Among the products that have benefited from Visteon’s new approach is the MACH Voice Link Bluetooth wireless interface module on the BMW 3 series and 5 series in Europe. Visteon may introduce the product in North America. Another is advanced front lighting for a European customer that will be introduced during 2004.

Kill says that Visteon was able to deliver the Sony-branded audio system in the Ford C-Max in less than 18 months.

The supplier has also introduced a DVD family entertainment system for the aftermarket in Europe.

Kill says the improvement has been due to a new discipline and focus on what the customer wants.

He says there has also been a greater focus on developing a “platform strategy” that allows greater re-use of developments.

“That is what is going to allow us to do significantly more with less,” says Kill.

Board oversight

The rigorous concept development process is overseen by the company’s advanced commercialisation board. The board is made up of senior executives with high-level experience at OEM customers and in product development.

“It represents a very diverse customer and supplier group,” says Kill.

The group meets quarterly and makes input into the portfolio managed by the product development process.

“It helps shape and in some cases confirm many of the decisions that we are taking,” says Kill.

Visteon monitors programmes on a monthly basis, checking that the milestones are met and deciding “whether or not it is now ready to go to a customer and which customer,” says Kill.

He says: “Nobody is interested in technology for technology’s sake.”