LIMA, Ohio — As recent years proved, there’s no such thing as guaranteed job security in the auto industry.
But those autoworkers lucky enough to supply and build the Ford F-150 have something pretty darn close.
The F-150 has been the top-selling pickup for 37 straight years, and the best-selling vehicle in the United States for the last 32 years.
Starting this fall, workers at Ford Motor Co.’s Lima Engine Plant will hitch their wagon up to that success as they begin producing a new 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine for the truck.
“I know what a good program can do for the future of a plant, and this is just as good as it gets right here today,” said Dave Rabe, president of United Auto Workers Local 1219. “This is going to be long-term employment for a lot of people. It’s going to be a high-demand engine and it’s going to keep a lot of people working.”
Ford will invest a total of $500 million into the plant to build a new high-tech engine assembly line and other supporting infrastructure. The company also said the new engine will add 300 jobs in Lima, bringing total employment to nearly 1,200.
Though Ford officially announced the details at a Friday press conference, in reality most of the money already has been spent.
Work has been ongoing for nearly two years to renovate more than 700,000 square feet of the plant and install the new equipment, which officials said has the flexibility to build multiple engines on the same line.
“This used to be quarantined off,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas, said while standing in front of the brightly lighted assembly area. “It was where they made the old Vulcan V-6. It was dark, there were big drapes up, curtains were up. It’s very exciting to see.”
Ford is building some preproduction engines already, though regular production isn’t expected to start until the year’s fourth quarter, a few weeks before the new 2015 F-150 goes on the market.
Once up to full capacity, the line will run two shifts with 154 workers per shift. Some workers on the line will likely transfer in from Ford’s two other Lima production lines, while others will be new employees to the plant.
The 300 new jobs in Lima will be a mix of transfers and new hires. Officials said Ford isn’t currently hiring.
“We’re still sorting out how many transfers from other locations and what the need will be,” Mr. Hinrichs said.
For Ford, the new Lima-built engine is an important addition to its lineup for the F-150.
“We've seen increasing demand for the V-6 applications in the F-150. When we launched the V-6 EcoBoost years ago, there were folks who were skeptical. Now 57 percent of our volume so far this year are V-6s," Mr. Hinrichs said.
In 2009, just 2 percent of retail buyers of the Ford F-150 opted for a V-6 engine, according to an Edmunds.com analysis of Polk data. Last year, 48 percent of trucks were delivered with a V-6.
Ford is by far the leader in that department. Just 10 percent of Chevrolet Silverados, 7 percent of GMC Sierras, and 9 percent of Ram 1500s were sold with V-6 engines last year.
Ford said the new twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter was designed specifically for the F-150. The company said the truck's weight — Ford said it has chopped 700 pounds from the F-150 for the 2015 model year — allowed engineers to use a smaller, lighter engine.
“We don’t believe without the 700 pounds of weight direction this engine would meet customers’ expectations for capability,” Mr. Hinrichs said.
Ford declined to provide power or economy specifications for the new engine. Officials also declined to say whether the engine may be used in other company vehicles.
The Lima Engine Plant also makes 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engines and 3.7-liter Duratec engines.