Ford Bronco Everglades chief engineer drives innovation and change

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The chief engineer behind the all-new Ford Bronco Everglades arrived in Detroit at the age of 10 from Poland, knowing perhaps five words of English, turning to numbers as the only language she speaks. could sail to America.

“We moved from this very small village in southern Poland, a kind of mountainous region,” Jolanta Coffey, 47, told the Free Press. “My stepfather had family in the United States, so we moved here to be with his family and for greater economic opportunities.”

He took a job repairing UAW machinery for Chrysler, speaking little English. She enrolled at Saint Cunegunda, a private Catholic school on the west side of town as one of 14 students in the class. Her teacher, so kind and patient, recorded English words on everything she could think of to identify – chair, table, desk, blackboard, door, clock.

“It was so difficult. I didn’t understand anything,” Coffey told the Free Press. “It was totally scary, terrifying. You think what 5th grade kids are like. It was terrible. I just really wanted to fit in. I really didn’t want to be the weird kid anymore. So I did everything what I could possibly do learn English to be able to fit in.”

Years later, she tried to find her teacher to thank her.

But the nice woman was dead.

“She treated me so well. I made the honor roll, I think, at the end of freshman year,” Coffey said. “I didn’t understand anything and she just tried to help me. I feel like I owe her so much.”

“Hardest Job”

Coffey, who later earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering with an MBA from the University of Michigan, is now the Ford Bronco’s chief engineer.

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It takes the company into uncharted territory as Ford prepares to challenge Jeep for the highly lucrative off-road market that has been dominated by Jeep for decades. Not only is the company building award-winning Broncos as quickly as possible to deliver to customers who have been waiting anxiously for months, but it’s pushing deeper into the multi-billion dollar aftermarket accessory industry with this Everglades model. that underscores new revenue potential for Ford, too.

Coffey has worked at Ford Motor Co. since 1996, after joining the customer service division as part of the company’s graduate program. She specializes in analyzing customer information in vehicle interior design, whether it’s interviews or surveys or cameras placed with consumers’ permission. She worked as a global cockpit manager, responsible for the design of the steering wheel and dashboard with its music system, heating and air conditioning and navigation. In product development, she managed the overall budget while overseeing organizational teams and programs.

Today, she manages an entire team for an iconic vehicle.

“The big thing for me with Jolanta, I don’t know her whole background, but what has struck me since she’s been here is really her focus on delivering what the customer wants,” said Jamie Groves, Bronco Vehicle Engineering. director, told the Free Press. “It might seem really obvious, this is what the chief engineers of the program should be doing. But so often this job is the hardest job in the company… What Jolanta needs to do is balance not only what the customer wants, but what the company wants and needs She is responsible for the profitability of the program, its complexity, its manufacturability and ultimately how we sell it to the customer . »

never a question

The chief engineer is also responsible for the design and trade-offs between the commercial side and its appearance and performance, said Groves, who works hand-in-hand with Coffey.

“So she owns it all,” he said. “A lot of times you get into tough discussions about how much money we’re going to spend on certain performance aspects of a product. I never felt with Jolanta that we were on opposite sides of So if I say I need X or Y to support the Bronco’s great off-road performance, it’s never a question of “Well, I don’t think we can afford to do that .” It’s just, ‘OK, how are we going to do this?’ Which makes my job a lot easier and a lot more fun.”

Coffey has come a long way from Waksmund, a village of a few thousand people about an hour south of Krakow.

“I grew up in the western part of Detroit, very close to Dearborn,” she said. “Ford was a huge presence. That’s why I wanted to work at Ford.”

Her classmates considered her culture and language foreign. Mathematics allowed Coffey to connect because it was an area in which she could demonstrate her knowledge.

“Maybe this whole experience has reinforced my love of math,” she said. “I could do math.”

She moved to Sterling Heights and graduated from Stevenson High School before leaving to pursue engineering degrees. And, from there, she added psychology to her interests, creating a unique combination at Ford.

“I really try to understand the human experience and how customers respond to our vehicles,” Coffey said.

Trade Secrets

And then she proceeds to reveal some of her many discoveries.

Part of what Coffey does is observe and listen. It may sound basic but it is nuanced and sometimes profound in its simplicity.

For example, where do people store things in their cars? Where do they put small and large items? Studying consumer behavior, Coffey will observe that various compartments may close but consumers leave those compartments open, whether to store pens or phone charging cords. This information can inform the design and determine if it is necessary to design enclosed compartments in certain parts of the cockpit.

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In Europe, customers carry drinks and need a cup holder to hold them, but they rarely consume the drinks while driving. Meanwhile, drivers in the United States drink their beverages while driving. It’s a subtle but important difference in terms of access, Coffey noted.

People, when asked, will say how they use their cell phones while driving, but when Coffey asked permission to install cameras and observed the behavior, that doesn’t reflect what people are saying. And, for safety and access reasons, what she observes influences the design.

What people want and what they think they want sometimes don’t match up.

Ford also pays attention to feedback from owners who comment on social media, both likes and dislikes, she said. “If you just ask people, maybe that’s not what customers actually do.”

Coffey talks to customers, reads their feedback materials while sitting in vehicles and trying to imagine the experiences.

Getting buyers to “fall in love” with vehicles is one thing, making sure they “stay in love” is another, she said.

Today, as chief engineer, Coffey works with design teams, engineering teams and marketing. His job, once the concept is developed, is to stay on track and fix any engineering issues that might prevent a feature from launching. His job is to put everything together on the budget.

“I’m the one making sure that happens,” she said.

Take risks

Snorkeling the Bronco Everglades was daring and not easy. But his team wanted to allow owners to ride in deep water without risking engine damage, because the snorkel raises the air intake point.

It helps with water, as well as dust and snow.

“Anything you’re trying to do that’s extreme is inherently difficult,” said Paul Wraith, Bronco’s chief designer. “It makes people nervous.”

Offering a snorkel from the factory is unprecedented for Ford and Coffey did it, he said: “We’ve created this innovative execution that no one has done before. There’s nothing you can do, there is nothing to copy.”

Attaching something after the fact to factory engineering and passing safety tests is a very different challenge..

It takes passion, focus and determination to make it work, Wraith said.

“The chief engineer job is kind of the worst in the whole industry. They get it from all sides,” he said. “Given how many things Jolanta has to deal with, essentially taking on an innovation project can feel like a real risk. Like, ‘I don’t want to deal with this.’ But his…concentration is so absolute…I have tremendous respect for his ability to control this incredible number of variables.”

It grows strong in areas that might encounter resistance, Wraith said.

“She has a wealth of experience. I’ve never met anyone who has done as much as her,” he said. “She can very often say, ‘I used to do this job. Here is what I would have done. Then she pulls it all off with humor, which is amazing.”

Looking back

just flew In Chicago to show the world the $53,000 Bronco Everglades at the Chicago Auto Show on Thursday, Coffey reflects on her past and who she is today. She remembers the joy and relief of reading her first book in English. She doesn’t remember the title, but thinks it must have been a classic Judy Blume story.

“My daughter is in 5th grade right now, so it’s very interesting for me, the comparison – me not speaking English. No one in my family was professional,” Coffey said.

When her daughter stayed home in Canton to go to school remotely last year, the child watched her engineer mother work and listened to meetings and was exposed to so much.

“The information she has and how that shapes her relative to my starting point,” Coffey said. “It’s really hard for me to think about where I started, where she is and how she benefits from it.”

“I think that kind of experience of not belonging is also part of what really drives me in the work that I do every day at Ford,” Coffey said. “It gives me the opportunity to mentor women or underrepresented groups. It’s about making sure you’re open to people and harnessing their abilities. I totally understand what it means to not fit in.”

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Contact Phoebe Wall Howard at phoward@freepress.com or 313-618-1034. Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid. Learn more about Ford and subscribe to our automotive newsletter.

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