DEARBORN, Mich. — Ford Motor Co., the second-largest U.S. automaker, has begun an eight-week closure of its Dearborn F-150 pickup plant to overhaul it for a new, aluminum-bodied version of the top-selling vehicle line in the United States.
“This is historic for the industry, not just for Ford,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, told reporters Monday at the company’s product development center in Dearborn. “To take the No. 1-selling vehicle for 32 years — it will be 33 soon — and convert it like this, at this volume, to aluminum, is historic and unprecedented.”
Michigan workers assembled their last 2014 F-150 early on Friday and crews began tearing up the plant to make way for the new equipment needed to manufacture parts out of aluminum, Mr. Hinrichs said. The conversion began one day ahead of schedule, he said, and this weekend, 1,100 trucks will stream into the plant to deliver the new tools. By mid-October, the factory will be building the “production version” of the 2015 model, he said.
“This is a massive undertaking, one of the bigger logistical challenges we’ve ever seen,” Mr. Hinrichs said. “It’s been orchestrated literally by the minute, by the truckload.”
The redesigned F-150 is the most critical new-model introduction for Ford in a year in which it is debuting 23 new products worldwide, including 16 in North America. Ford’s U.S. sales are off 0.4 percent this year and the automaker has said 2014 profit will slip as it retools factories and spends to introduce new models. Ford had net income of $2.3 billion in the first half of the year, compared with $2.84 billion in 2013’s first half.
While Ford overhauls its Dearborn truck plant, it will continue to produce the 2014 model F-150 at a factory near Kansas City. That factory will close later to be converted to the new aluminum-bodied pickup, Mr. Hinrichs said.
Including beefier versions, such as the F-250, the F-Series has been the best-selling truck line in the United States for 37 years and the tops in the industry for any vehicle type for 32 years.
The F-150 arriving in showroom at year’s end sheds more than 700 pounds to improve fuel economy, mostly by using aluminum instead of steel in its body. In 2013, Ford’s U.S. F-Series sales rose 18 percent to 763,402. That helped drive Ford’s North American pretax profits to a record $8.78 billion last year. So far this year, F-Series sales in the United States are up 0.3 percent to 429,065, according to researcher Autodata Corp.
“We’re very much on plan,” Mr. Hinrichs said. “F-150 is roughly one out of five vehicles we sell in North America. So it’s a big deal and no one’s ever done this.”
Ford shares rose 0.3 percent to $17.23 Monday. The shares have gained 12 percent so far this year.
Ford boosts work force, investment at Ky. plant
LOUISVILLE — Ford has beefed up its work force and investment at a Kentucky plant to support production of its new Lincoln SUV as the automaker looks to reinvigorate its luxury brand.
The company said Monday it added 300 workers and invested $129 million in Louisville Assembly Plant, where Ford makes the Lincoln MKC and Ford Escape. With the 300 new jobs, the plant’s hourly work force has climbed to about 4,700.
Ford invested $600 million in 2010 to renovate the factory that churned out Explorers for decades until production was shifted elsewhere.