Formerly home to the company's super-sized Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs, Ford's dormant Michigan Truck Plant is in the final stages of a major renovation program to prepare it for a future turning out a host of smaller, cleaner and greener vehicles. The automaker just announced plans to invest another $550 million beyond the $375 million already committed to complete that transformation, with $430 million of that amount designated to cover manufacturing and tooling and $120 million slated for supplemental launch and engineering costs. As for product, Ford execs finally confirmed long-circulating rumors that this now-renamed Michigan Assembly Plant will be home base to the next-generation Focus, which goes into production in 2010. Perhaps more significantly, it also will be the source point for a zero-emissions, battery-electric version of the car due to launch in 2011. In addition to turning out Ford's first mass-market EV, expect to see several other members of the automaker's global C-platform family of smaller vehicles roll down its assembly lines, as well.
When completed and merged with Ford's nearby Wayne Assembly Plant, the new Michigan Assembly Plant will be a state-of-the-art "flexible body shop" where 80 percent or more of the production robots are fully programmable and capable of working on several different types and sizes of vehicles. More than 85 percent of Ford's facilities worldwide have already been upgraded to this status. To realize the greatest total operating efficiencies, Ford is negotiating with leaders of the United Auto Workers union to create equally state-of-the-industry work rules that will cover some 3,200 members who will be employed there.
Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally sees the transformation of the Michigan Assembly Plant as indicative of a more broad-based change throughout the entire company. "This is about investing in modern, efficient and flexible American manufacturing. It is about fuel economy and the electrification of vehicles. It is about leveraging our expertise and vehicle platforms around the world and partnering with the UAW to deliver best-in-class global small cars. It is about skilled and motivated teams working together in new ways to create the future of automobile manufacturing in the United States."
When operational, the Michigan Assembly Plant will become the state's first automotive technology anchor site as well as a key element in helping Ford deliver on its promise to bring four new electric cars to market by 2012. That unique status also will ensure Ford continues to qualify for additional tax incentives and benefits. So far, the state of Michigan, Wayne County and the City of Wayne have anted up over $160 million in the form of various tax credits and grants to help in this expansion/modernization effort, which includes underwriting Ford's ongoing work in the field of advanced battery development and technology.