Ford unveils truck plant SUV's, affirms future of Louisville Assembly Plant


Posted on August 15, 2009 at 6:42 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 13 at 6:10 PM

(WHAS11) - The Super Duty Trucks made at Ford's Kentucky Truck Plant now have company -- the Expedition and Navigator SUV's.

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The automaker is showing off the Chamberlain Lane plant's new " lean" manufacturing process, which the automaker estimates as a $200 millioninvestment in flexible manufacturing.

It allows Ford to make the SUV's on the same line as Super Duty Trucks.

You wouldn't know it from the new Expeditions and Navigators rolling off the line, but Ford says this is part of the automaker's small car offensive, because a Michigan plant that was making the large SUV's can now make the Focus.

The bigger picture is Ford's plans for all of its plants to have flexible manufacturing by 2013.

"It's a matter of programming the robots and changing out some simple tooling in order to build whatever the customer demand is," explained Ford's Chris Pereira on a tour of the plant Thursday.

The new flex body shop was installed in the space formerly used for production of Ford's largest SUV, the Excursion.

"What we're trying to do globally with all of our manufacturing plants is to create lean, flexible plants that can produce several different vehicles on several different platforms,"said James Tetreault, Vice-President of North American Manufacturing.

Ford reaffirmed its commitment Thursday to transform the Louisville Assembly Plant, with a retooling shutdown sometime next year, and a new car that Ford still won't reveal.

"That product that is going into the Louisville Assembly Plant is a globally developed product that's on a timetable that's suitable for the companies needs globally," Tetreault added.

Booming Explorer sales ten years ago skewed Ford production to trucks.

While Ford is now shifting to smaller cars and fuel efficiency, Tetreault says Ford will build the large SUV's as long as consumers want them.

"If gas stays at $2 a gallon and sales are higher, I'll be giving my friend Joe (KTP Plant Manager Joe Bobnar) here a call saying 'you guys have to figure out how to build more.'"

Also at the media event Thursday were Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, Greater Louisville Inc's Joe Reagan and Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, all eager to reinforce the relationship between the automaker and Kentucky, which has doled out hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives to Ford.

"Ford has shown its commitment to this state many times and we have stepped up in return," said Beshear, "and shown that commitment and developed a tremendous working partnership here."< /p>

Flexible manufacturing not only makes Ford more efficient, it also means some job security for Ford workers at the Kentucky Truck Plant because even if Super Duty production stops for a period of time, Expedition and Navigator production still requires about two-thirds of the KTP workforce.

With 450 United Auto Workers transferring from the Explorer plant to Chamberlain Lane, the Kentucky Truck Plant now has an estimated 4,050 employees.

With General Motors shutting many plants for about two months this summer, including Bowling Green's Corvette plant, Tetreault acknowledged Ford's worries because Ford shares suppliers with GM.

"We certainly are very worried about it but we're focused on working our business and not focused on the competition."

And while GM and Chrysler face bankruptcy fears, Tetreault boasted Ford's survival without relying on government bailout funds.

"One thing we've proven over the last six months is we will manage this business. So, whatever happens, we're going to respond to it."