The perception of the automotive industry is that it’s a man’s world and it’s a real struggle for women to get into. But that’s not the experience of Ford’s Sarah Haslam, who has been with the company for almost 20 years.
“I tend to stand out more, people remember me, but I use that to my advantage in how I operate and how I work,” she says. “My skills complement the rest of the team and those around me. The management team I work with here are very encouraging and supportive of my career development. I don’t feel I have been treated differently in any way.”
Haslam started her career at Ford in quality, working on the original Focus, looking at how the company ensures that its customer requirements of a product are designed into a vehicle.
From there she moved into body engineering, responsible for sun roofs, bumper beams and windscreen wipers on Fiesta products. She says: “I had a very successful launch role in that period where I worked out in Cologne in our vehicle manufacturing plant, working with the manufacturing team to hand over the new product. It was very hands-on, very product orientated, resolving problems quickly to ensure we launched successfully.”
She also held commodity engineering roles and was responsible for designing bumper beams across all of Ford’s lines.
From there she moved into powertrain engineering to design and develop engines, transmissions and all installations and components that make up the powertrain line-up for the Transit van. Haslam currently oversees teams in the UK, Turkey, China and North America.
She explains: “I have responsibility to ensure that all the attributes are being delivered in terms of fuel economy, weight, performance, cost, quality, and ensuring that all of our powertrain components come together on time to design specification.”
Haslam can frequently be found having phone calls with her engineering teams in China where the company is getting ready to launch its new Transit with a stage V emission diesel engine and a gasoline engine. The company is also getting ready to launch an automatic transmission there later in the year.
In Europe Ford is preparing to launch its new Euro VI emissions diesel engine for the Transit. The engine is being developed and built in Dagenham in the UK and is to be shipped out to Turkey. The product will be launched on the market within the next few weeks.
Haslam says: “I have been spending a lot of time in the plant with my safety shoes on, making sure my team is delivering and all the issues are being dealt with as quickly as we can. At my level it can feel very hands off from the product, so it is great for me to be back in the plant and seeing the product and helping the team fix issues.
“There is a lot of travel for me at the moment. I have just been to China for a week driving our prototype vehicles with automatic transmissions, making evaluations to ensure that they are driving properly and that we can proceed with building them. I’m off to Detroit at the end of March – we have a new programme that is kicking off for 2019 so we need to have some deep dive reviews with the engineering teams out there because we are going to be upgrading the engines in North America as well.”
Haslam says she loves her job, but the upcoming legal changes around CO2 emissions are making it more difficult. “Those requirements are changing so quickly that for us as a team to address those and get the technology designed and developed to support those changing requirements is quite challenging.
“We have a cycle plan that we are working to, but we need to be flexible and adapt if required, looking at hybridisation for example. Having the ability to flex and move quickly with the industry’s changing needs – that is an extra challenge on top of everything else we do here,” she concludes.