A driving force

February 23, 2004

6 Min Read
A driving force

Dearborn, MI—Had she listened to her mother's advice, Barb Samardzich would be working as a professional secretary right now. But she didn't. She listened to her brother's—the one who said, "go into engineering, you'll be sure to get a job."Since joining Ford in 1990, Samardzich—now the Executive Director of Small Front- and Rear-Wheel Drive

Vehicles—has worked her way up through the ranks, garnering respect and a laundry list of achievements that include a complete overhaul of Ford's automatic transmission line—and the company's reputation to boot. Her accomplishments have also led Samardzich to deliver the 2005 Ford Mustang, due out this Fall. "I haven't had to fall back on typing yet," she says.

Reliability First

Having spent about eight years working on various front-end component and powertrain systems, Samardzich had established a name for herself in powertrains. By 1999, she had worked her way out of engine development into vehicle production, and was promoted to chief engineer for Automatic Transmissions. Unfortunately, while Ford vehicles were progressing in every other aspect, "automatic transmissions were the Achilles' heel of the vehicle," she says. According to Ken Williams, the manufacturing director for Automatic Transmissions who worked directly with Samardzich, "We had a horrible reputation—no durability nor fuel economy."

Working with Williams, Samardzich developed a three-year plan to turn around the automatic transmission line and achieve an 8 to 10 percent improvement rating in customer satisfaction. In order to attain that goal, Samardzich developed a two-fold personal strategy: Pay attention to detail and set the right direction for the team. "Engineers have the skill set, they just need the direction to know what to focus on," she says. So she organized "high mileage reliability meetings," in which the team identified top automatic transmission problems, then developed benchmark tests to duplicate the failures and potential solutions using analysis software.

Core upgrades: The 2005 Mustang underwent a complete revamp of its platform, including the powertrain. the 5-speed 5R55S automatic transmission has closely spaced ratios for better acceleration; they liquid-filled engine mounts are designed to suppress vibrations; and this two-piece drive shaft provides smooth, high-speed power delivery.

Not only did Samardzich's team improve former shortcomings—such as durability and shift quality—in the existing automatic transmission line, they also developed a customer satisfaction test. The test, called the Shift Quality Health Chart, provides quantifiable results for such shift elements as vibration, duration, delay, and sound. "For years, when we developed shift quality, we used seat-of-the-pants technology," Samardzich explains. "There was no science to it at all." The tests now use regression analyses to identify the relationship between objective measurements taken on the vehicle and the subjective customer responses to transmission performance. Between the 2001 and 2002 model years, Ford transmissions improved overall by 25 percent, in terms of repairs per thousand vehicles (R/1000), and by 13 percent in Things Gone Wrong, determined by a Ford-specific customer survey process.

When Samardzich left her position in automatic transmissions in 2002, her Shift Quality Health Chart spread throughout the company. Ford now uses it on over 3 million transmissions annually in four plants globally for the majority of Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury products.

Samardzich cites her three years working in automatic transmissions as both her toughest challenge and greatest achievement. Indeed her accomplishments haven't gone unnoticed by colleagues. "The challenge that Barb took on in automatic transmissions is what catapulted her career," says Doug Szopo, executive director for North American Products, Manufacturing, and Business Strategy at Ford. Szopo should know too. He's worked with Samardzich since her start at Ford. "She's obviously reached a senior level position, but she earned it by digging in and understanding," he says.

Making of a Legend

And now Samardzich is using that engineering know-how to deliver the 2005 Mustang this Fall. Based on the styling of the 1967 Mustang, the 2005 model will, no doubt, turn heads with its nod to heritage. But Samardzich insists that the styling is just the icing on the cake. "We've got an Arnold Schwar-zenegger physique," she explains, "but I want it to be Lance Armstrong when I drive it."

Samardzich's current role in delivering the 2005 model to market is to set the vision for the team in order to meet vehicle objectives, ensure on-time delivery, and satisfy customer expectations. Given the roughly 150,000 Mustangs sold each year, customer expectations for a "fast, fun, and affordable" Mustang are high.

The new Mustang is built on an entirely new platform—a once-in-a-career opportunity, according to Samardzich. To achieve the need for speed, Samardzich and her team of engineers are replacing the 2004 model's cast iron V-8 engine block with a deep-skirt, light-weight aluminum engine block that offers better stiffness and strength, and also saves 75 lbs of weight overall. Higher torque and horsepower, as well as the new 5-speed automatic transmission option, contribute to faster 0-60 acceleration. And the new platform also offers improved weight distribution (from 57/43 front-to-rear to now 52/48), more neutral handling, precise steering, and better braking.

A tough challenge with her leadership position, as Samardzich explains, is meeting the customer expectations and setting the goals for the team. "I've got to have a vision of what it is we want to bring to fruition," she says. "And it's got to be articulated and easily digested by everyone in the organization."


2005 Mustang GT

2004 Mustang GT

Engine Type

Alum. block/heads, SOHC V8, 3 valves/cylinder, variable cam timing

Cast iron, aluminum cylinder head, SOHC V8, 2 valves/cylinder

Displacement (L/cu. in.)



HP@RPM (lb-ft)

300 @ 6,000

260 @ 5,250

Torque @ RPM (lb-ft)

315 @ 4,500

302 @ 4,000

0-60 MPH (sec)

5.4 (est.)


Top Speed (mph)

140-150 (est.)

140 (est.)


5-speed manual std.

5-speed manual std.

5-speed auto opt.

4-speed auto opt.

Web resource

For more information on the 2005 Ford Mustang,go to http://rbi.ims.ca/3845-563

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