Area investments on Ford Motor Co.'s mind for 2013

Posted on December 27, 2012

Ford Motor Co. is preparing for its next wave of products with investments in southeast Michigan that will total $773 million in 2013.

The Dearborn automaker will modernize its Dearborn Stamping Plant with four new press lines for its next-generation F-Series trucks, due in 2014. It will retool its capacity-constrained Michigan Assembly Plant to increase the output of small cars.

In addition, Ford is making significant investments at the Van Dyke Transmission Plant, Livonia Transmission Plant and Sterling Axle Plant.

The investments are part of a nationwide $6.2 billion investment promise — which includes the addition of 12,000 new hourly jobs — Ford made to the United Auto Workers in 2011 when the last contract was signed. In all, Ford’s 2013 investments will add 2,350 jobs in southeast Michigan.

“We’re absolutely on track with all of the commitments,” said Jim Tetreault, Ford’s vice president of North American manufacturing, in an interview.

Ford will revamp facilities to increase flexibility at a time when plant space is at a premium. The automaker’s North American plants are running at 114 percent capacity; General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC are also running above 100 percent capacity.

Ford’s $335 million investment in the Dearborn Stamping Plant will be critical for the automaker’s next-generation F-Series trucks, specifically the best-selling F-150, which will need to shed weight to eventually meet federal fuel economy standards.

Joe Langley, senior analyst of North American forecasts at Troy-based market intelligence firm LMC Automotive, said Ford’s retooling for the next-generation F-150 must be done strategically to avoid shortages.

“They can’t afford to turn it off for even a month and retool factories,” Langley said of Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant, home to three shifts of F-150 production.

Ford is also making a substantial investment in another Wayne County plant. The automaker is pumping $161 million in upgrades at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant, which by mid-2013 will be the company’s most flexible plant, capable of building any type of car on any size platform.

The plant will initially handle spillover production of Ford’s Fusion midsize sedan, currently built in Hermosillo, Mexico, and is slated to eventually produce the Taurus and Lincoln MKS.

The upgrades will mean 1,200 new jobs at Flat Rock. Ford expects to begin hiring for those positions during the second quarter of 2013; nearly all will be new to the company.

Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, which currently produces five cars, will get about $60 million to expand its stamping plant and add two stamping lines, allowing the automaker to insource manufacturing and increase plant production capacity.

That plant is running above capacity, but can still achieve greater output through improved in-plant efficiencies.

Tetreault said Ford achieved a 3 percent production increase in plant production efficiencies this year through small, in-plant changes.

Ford in 2013 will finish investing approximately $85 million at its Sterling Axle Plant, $87 million at its Van Dyke Transmission Plant and $74 million at its Livonia Transmission Plant.

Karl Henkel, The Detroit News.