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Stabroek News

Ford retools plant for small cars
published: Sunday | August 31, 2008

WAYNE, Mich. (AP):

Ford Motor Co said on Wednesday that it will spend $75 million to retool part of its Michigan Truck factory to make car bodies, part of the automaker's plan to convert some truck factories to make smaller vehicles.

Michigan Truck's 1,000 workers who now make Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator sport utility vehicles will be sent to the nearby Wayne Assembly Plant, where Ford plans to add a third shift to make more Focus small cars.

The move will begin in November, when Ford starts moving the equipment to build the big SUVs to the Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville. That will clear space for Michigan Truck's body shop to be retooled to make Focus bodies. Michigan Truck will be converted entirely to a car plant in 2010.

More small cars

The changes are part of Ford's plan to build more small cars in response to the rapid US market shift away from trucks and SUVs. The shift, which has been under way for several years, accelerated rapidly, starting in May as gasolene prices started to rise toward $4 per gallon ($1.05 a litre).

For the past few months, Ford has said it has not been able to build Focuses fast enough, but it has curtailed production of trucks and SUVs.

The Wayne Assembly Plant has been on two shifts except for its body shop, which operates nearly around the clock. The body shop, though, can't move as quickly as the rest of the assembly line, so it's slowing Focus production.

Ford spokeswoman Angie Kozleski said there's still no guarantee the company will build Focus bodies at Michigan Truck in January, when the retooling is expected to be complete.

The plan

"We continue to watch market demand and market conditions," she said. "If they are there, then that is what the plan would be."

If Michigan Truck begins making Focus bodies, it would not need to add any workers, she said.

The Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, which now makes Super Duty F-Series pickups, will start making the big SUVs in the second quarter of next year.

Once the SUV tooling is gone, Ford will begin converting Michigan Truck so it can make small cars based on the global Focus underpinnings starting in 2010.

Michigan Truck is one of three North American truck and SUV plants that Ford said it plans to retool to make compact and subcompact vehicles.

Ford announced its plans to convert Michigan Truck in July, and also said it would retool its Louisville Assembly plant, which makes Ford Explorer SUVs, to make small cars in 2011. The company previously announced it would convert its Cuautitlan Assembly Plant in Mexico, which makes pickup trucks, to produce the Fiesta subcompact in 2010.

The company plans to retool all three plants so they can build multiple models to react to market demand.

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