Donald Ufford

MSME '89
Director, Global Vehicle Engineering, Ford Motor Company

The unique experience of a car as iconic as the Ford Mustang, with its world-famous style and matchless engine sound, has inspired poetry — a lot of poetry. One of dozens of poems at begins: “A twist of the key, a mechanical whir, in the blink of an eye, the engine purrs.”

That poem’s author — along with countless other Mustang devotees — would enjoy meeting Donald Ufford, whose behind-the-scenes engineering work has helped create the Mustang, right down to its revered whir and purr.

Ufford’s quest to improve the sensory experience for Ford customers began while he worked toward his master’s degree with Bob Bernhard, who once directed the Acoustics and Noise Control Research Program at Purdue’s Ray W. Herrick Laboratories.

“I understood engine operation and mechanical systems, but Dr. Bernhard offered me the opportunity to study the generation, radiation and measurement of high-frequency sound and vibration,” Ufford recalls. “The experience showed me a lot more about engineering and about human perception. That really opened my eyes to a lot of opportunities on how to improve the customer experience.

“The engine sound of a Ford Mustang as it drives away — both inside and outside of the vehicle — is exciting. You want that signature sound to be true to the history of the Mustang, and you want it to really make you feel good and excited about driving.”

Clearly, Ufford has proven that he understands the science and the art of vehicle engineering. A host of professional accolades and his steady progression toward broader responsibility at Ford testify to his knowledge, ambitious effort and remarkable achievement. “My team and I have responsibility for engineering the customer-perceived attributes for all the Ford products globally,” Ufford says. “I have team members in all of our plant and engineering locations throughout the world who ensure that our products are meeting the needs of our global customer base.”

Ufford has led engineering teams that have produced a long list of award-winning vehicles for Ford. Vehicles for which he and his team have been responsible include the Fusion, Motor Trend’s 2010 Car of the Year, and other award winners including Ford’s Flex, Fusion Hybrid, Explorer, Focus and Transit Connect. The F-Series pickup — the largest selling vehicle in the United States — has earned Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year honors multiple times, including in 2017. Ufford’s teams introduced high fuel economy twin-turbo V6 engines into the F-150 in 2011, and in 2015 introduced a sweeping redesign that replaced the vehicle’s steel with aluminum, saving 750 pounds, and further contributing to the popular vehicle’s fuel economy.

“My teams around the world deal with vehicle engineering for acoustics, vibration and vehicle dynamics, aerodynamics, and human interaction with the vehicle,” Ufford says. “They identify the aspects of a vehicle that customers perceive or sense that give them the feeling for the character of a vehicle — the customer experience.”

As a leader, Ufford says his priority is to set up his teams for success: “I develop my team of engineers so that they have the best capabilities and knowledge available today around the globe. I want them to be inspired to come to work and do a great job of putting passion into our products that customers can see and feel.”

Ufford shares his own passion for his work and for Purdue through his contributions as a member of the Herrick Lab Industrial Advisory Committee. “I love when I get a chance to come for that,” he says. He also has a long history as a leader with the Boy Scouts, and he is a mentor for students involved in FIRST robotics, a STEM-promoting program for high school students that is characterized as “the hardest fun you’ll ever have.”

Ufford also shows his special bond with Purdue when he welcomes Purdue graduates who are beginning careers with Ford. “I meet students here at Ford as we bring them on board. Purdue is second only to the entire state of Michigan as the largest source of engineers for Ford.”