Production of the next generation of Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS, the company’s flagship sedans in North America, is expected to move to Michigan’s Flat Rock plant in two years, providing security and maybe even more jobs than the 1,400 people to be hired for a current expansion, a Detroit paper reported.
The Detroit Free Press did not cite its sources – and noted the exact number of new jobs was not yet known – but said Flat Rock would become Ford’s central hub for midsize and full-size cars; a sharp contrast from a year ago when the factory was barely able to keep one shift busy making the Mustang and the Mazda6. There were fears among workers that the plant, formerly known as AutoAlliance International, might be scrapped or sold off.
It initially opened in 1972 as a Ford casting plant in 1972 but closed in 1981. Mazda bought the facility in 1987 and produced a variety of vehicles, including the MX-6, the Ford Probe which shared the platform, the 626 (basis of the MX-6 and Probe and the successor Mazda6. In 1992, Ford bought a 50% share, and the joint venture was renamed AutoAlliance International.
Full-size sedans don’t sell in volumes as high as midsize cars, but they tend to be profitable and establish a brand’s image, the paper noted.
The report said local union officials are expecting the second shift starting next July will require the addition of 1,400 jobs – 200 more than originally planned to add Fusion production. About 1,763 workers currently make the Mustang on a single shift and will add the Fusion in February. Company officials have told the ‘Freep‘ they expected only 1,200 new jobs initially.
A local UAW official told the paper he was hoping the addition of the bigger cars eventually would require a third shift though, at the very least, it should require some additional workers for the first two shifts.
Ford currently assembles the MKS and Taurus in Chicago at a plant that also makes the Explorer SUV and police versions of the Explorer and Taurus. It now employs three shifts.
Flat Rock production had wound down to a single shift. Then Mazda decided to halt Mazda6 production [it was larger than the model sold in other markets with a V6 engine option – ed] in August and build the next generation line for the US in Japan, making the plant’s future even more precarious.
The Free Press noted that Ford, in negotiations with the UAW, last year committed to the future of Flat Rock, announcing plans to spend US$555m to make the plant capable of making six vehicles from three different platforms. The immediate plans are to add the Fusion to augment main production in Mexico [from which it is also shipped to Brazil under a free trade agreement – ed]. Ford also promised to keep the next-generation Mustang at Flat Rock.
The UAW hoped to add Lincoln production, too, and was lobbying for the midsize MKZ, the cousin to the Fusion, the paper said.
Instead, the report added, citing multiple unnamed sources, Ford plans to give Flat Rock the full-size MKS sedan when the next generation comes out in the 2014 time frame. The plant could get some, or all, of Taurus production, as well.
Ford spokesman Todd Nissen declined to comment to the Detroit Free Press on future product plans.
However, Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis with AutoPacific, told the paper Ford’s strategy of engineering the next-generation big sedans from the same platform as the smaller Fusion and MKZ made the transition possible.
If Ford’s Flat Rock, Chicago and Oakville, Ontario, plants are all equipped to make such ‘CD4 platform’ vehicles, the automaker could shift products between plants to meet demand, Michael Robinet, managing director of IHS Automotive Consulting in Northville, said.
“Platform reduction gives them economies of scale and production flexibility,” Robinet said. “It means Ford can maximise its mix of vehicles available to customers and profits with more opportunities to fill plants.”
Jim Farley, Ford’s head of global sales and marketing, told the Free Press the large sedan market was half what it used to be.
As a result, the industry is blurring mid- and large premium sedans. “People don’t want enormous cars in the US,” Farley said.
The paper noted the current MKS has been criticised as too large but without enough interior space. The next generation is expected to be more nimble and spacious with an ample back seat for owners in China who like to be chauffeured.
Lincoln will start exporting to China in the second half of 2014 and the MKS and the MKT Town Car livery vehicle are expected to be well received, the report added.