Derrick Kuzak '73, '74, '76

Derrick Kuzak

Ford VP steers product development in rapid global expansion

The logistics of running Global Product Development at Ford Motor Co. must keep Group Vice President Derrick Kuzak up at night. The University of Detroit Engineering graduate leads teams of thousands of engineers who work with designers, marketing and business professionals to create new vehicles. Multiply each of those teams by eight regions—ranging from North America to Mexico, Brazil, China, Australia, Turkey, Germany and beyond—and you get a glimmer of the magnitude of Kuzak’s job.

“One of the elements of a good engineer in developing vehicles for a global market is understanding the customer,” said Kuzak. “Everything we do starts with the customer.
“The diversity of our team reflects our customers, which helps us better understand what customers want in a vehicle. We engineer cars in Brazil and China, not for low-cost engineering, but because these countries are the largest growth markets in the industry.”

He notes that keeping prices affordable is an important strategy for customer satisfaction and growth in developing markets, especially in India and China. Cost savings come from developing fewer models in each size segment, e.g., subcompact (Fiesta), compact (Focus), mid-size (Fusion and Edge) and pickups/commercial vehicles (F-Series, E-series and Transit). Standardizing the tools used and streamlining the manufacturing process also save costs.

Eighty percent of the global vehicle content is consistent, Kuzak noted. The 20 percent balance is engineered specifically to each region’s road conditions, safety requirements, other regulations and market differentials.

Ford is launching an all-new Focus to be sold globally at volumes that will top more than 850,000 units annually.  “The convergence of customer preferences globally has allowed us to provide a better value to our customers with outstanding fuel economy (40 mpg highway) and technology and features not normally found in a vehicle in this segment,” Kuzak said.

Innovative electric vehicles and higher-efficiency 4-cylinder and V-6 engines are leading the way in delivering better gas mileage and alternative fuel vehicles to contend with the escalating price of oil.

“For customers, there’s a rational part and an emotional part to buying an electric vehicle,” Kuzak noted. “They may love the design, but they have to be rational about the cost. They think in terms of ‘How long will it take for improved fuel efficiency to pay back the extra cost of the vehicle?’”

Ford offers customers three options: pure electric vehicles (Focus Electric and Transit Connect Electric), hybrids (Fusion Hybrid and upcoming C-MAX Hybrid) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (upcoming C-MAX Energi).
“Instead of having a single unique vehicle, we are electrifying our global vehicles,” Kuzak says. “We are putting an electric platform under the Focus and offering the power of choice.”

Ford has more than 125 patents on EcoBoost engine technology. The first EcoBoost engine to be introduced was a 3.5 liter V-6 engine that delivers 10 to 20 percent improved fuel economy over a V-8 engine with similar horsepower. The customer can recoup the cost in fuel savings in 12 to 15 months.

As a U of D graduate (bachelor of science ’73 and master of science ’74 in Electrical Engineering and doctor of Engineering, Systems Engineering ’76), Kuzak has applied his alma mater’s principle of “giving back” decisively. He “serves” the customer with a laser-like focus and mentors as well as leads his engineering team.

“I try to make their job fun and give them the tools they need to do their jobs well,” he said.

Kuzak sits on the Board of Trustees at UDM and other members of the Ford team serve on the University’s college and school advisory boards.

UDM’s College of Engineering & Science, led by Dean Leo Hanifin, has developed three engineering programs based on an industry-University collaboration, with Kuzak as the lead industry advisor. They are a master’s degree in Product Development, a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering for designers, and an advanced electric vehicle (AE) certification program for automotive engineers.

Kuzak’s family and career are top priorities. He and his wife live in Milford and have a daughter.