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2008 Ford Escape has Perfect Touch


Turn on the radio, adjust the air conditioning, set a destination in your navigation unit or simply move the seat forward in the all-new 2008 Ford Escape, and you’ll notice a subtle something -- a certain harmony in the feel and function of every switch, knob and button.

The 2008 Escape is the first Ford Motor Company product to have total integrated component switch-feel harmony, which is quite an accomplishment given that, like most vehicles, many of the compact utility’s interior controls are produced by different suppliers.

How important is switch-feel? The truth is that switch-feel is an integral part of interior quality. “If we are to deliver a vehicle interior that is perceived as of the highest quality, we have to get the feel and the harmony of the switches right,” says Yifan Chen, Technical Leader, Vehicle Design Research & Advanced Engineering. Chen leads a Ford project on Perceptual Design, a relatively new discipline that attempts to correlate operating feel of mechanical human-machine interfaces to customer perceived quality.

Thanks to Chen and his team, Ford has developed industry-first and industry-exclusive switch-feel measurement and playback systems, plus a host of psychophysical and statistical engineering tools for developing best-in-class switch-feel quality. These technologies allow engineers and designers to test different switch-feel parameters and develop specifications for switch-feel that are more in line with customer expectations.

“When a customer sits down in a vehicle, one of the first things they do is touch the switches. In fact, one of the main decision makers for high-end vehicles is how the switches feel,” says Barbara Wilson, component feel SME for Ford’s EESE Interior Harmony Group. “For customers, switch-feel -- does the switch wobble, how much force is needed to turn it or push it -- helps define the perceived quality of the entire vehicle.”

Ford first applied its innovative switch-feel technologies to the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ (formerly Lincoln Zephyr) vehicle programs for 2005, greatly improving these products’ climate control and window lift switches. Since then, the technology has been applied to other important touch zones, including shifter feel. Ford’s improved shifter feel debuted on the all-new 2007 Ford Edge last year.

When designing the 2008 Escape’s all-new interior, Ford’s interior design team collaborated with Wilson to ensure that the vehicle’s cabin and all its components work together harmoniously in terms of not only touch, but appearance, lighting and sound as well. “We have amazing harmony in this vehicle,” says Product Design Engineer Allan Fisher. “The center stack, for example, appears as one module, yet it contains components from two different suppliers.”

Rather than the traditional brick design for the radio and climate control, the 2008 Escape features dials and buttons that actually poke through the center stack, which required extra attention from a design and switch-feel perspective. “We paid close attention to where things were placed, making sure button height was perfect, that they didn’t over-travel or stick and that they all feel the same and require the same amount of torque to operate. From an ergonomic standpoint we know customers are going to love it,” says Fisher.

Complete switch-feel harmony in a vehicle is no small feat. In addition to considering multiple suppliers, there are multiple types of switches ranging from small and large rotary switches to straight push and rocker buttons. Some are low-current switches, such as the climate control’s mode selector, while others are high-current, such as the fan speed -- creating wide variances in the amount of force needed to operate the switch.

By establishing a unified set of customer-correlated switch-feel specifications, Ford is now able to work with many different switch suppliers and ensure consistency in delivered switch-feel quality. The Escape’s interior team, for instance, worked with multiple suppliers to ensure that all of the vehicle’s switches fell within a comprehensive set of numerical switch-feel targets. “Every switch you touch in the Escape is now within our specification and provides the best feel for the customer,” says Tanmoy Joshi, product design engineer. “It’s like night and day. The old dinosaur feel, where you needed a lot of torque, a lot of friction or energy, to operate a specific switch has disappeared. Now, feel and force are more consistent.”

Along with improved switch-feel, the 2008 Escape offers other interior refinements that boost the compact utility’s high-quality appearance and overall appeal to customers. A top-of-the-dash display, for example, puts much of the vehicle’s information at eye level, making it easier to reference when driving. In addition, the Escape features the first use of Ford’s signature Ice Blue interior lighting, which presents a cool, crisp, easy-on-the-eyes light for night driving. The center console is large enough to hold a laptop computer and has two removable bins that can be hung from the front passenger side or rear of the console to create unique storage options.

According to Dave Mangham, a product design engineer on the Escape team, the interior switch-feel specifications used for the 2008 Escape have created “a living document,” that is now being refined and applied to current and future vehicle programs across Ford Motor Company brands. “As we launch new vehicles and refresh vehicles, we will use the same process and specifications so customers will experience a sense of interior harmony for switch-feel as well as color and sound -- no matter what Ford product they drive.”


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