Putting its money where its mouth is, Ford Motor Company has announced a $75 million program to convert its state-of-the-art Michigan Truck Plant's body shop into a facility that will build small, fuel-efficient cars. The commitment follows up on CEO Alan Mulally's recent statements that the firm plans to recast its position in the industry from being primarily a producer of large pickups and SUV to placing primary emphasis on selling high-quality, high-mpg passenger cars. Due to begin in November, this megadollar changeover will see Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator production head to the firm's Kentucky Truck Plant starting in early 2009 and pave the way for vehicles using Ford's highly acclaimed C-car platform -- starting with the Focus -- to start rolling off of the assembly lines beginning in 2010.
Built in 2005 at a total investment of $300 million, Michigan Truck is one of three North American truck and SUV plants that will be transitioned to making compact and subcompact vehicles. In 2010, the F-Series pickup plant in Cuautitlan, Mexico will start turning out the new Fiesta subcompact for the North America market. The Louisville Assembly, that presently makes the mid-size Ford Explorer SUV, will become home to several other as-yet-unspecified small vehicles based on the global C-car architecture, starting in 2011.
One of the key benefits offered by the Michigan Truck facility is its "flexible" design. In plants using that non-product-specific configuration, at least 80 percent of the robotic welders can be reprogrammed to build any type of vehicle or selection of vehicles at any given time, resulting in additional cost savings. Currently, over 85 percent of Ford body shops worldwide employ this potentially money-saving technology. That percentage is set to hit 100 by 2012.