North America:Ford will make two new SUVs in Oakville
Ford will make two new SUVs in Oakville
By GREG KEENAN
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Ford Motor Co. is planning to pro_duce two new sport utility vehicles at a plant in Oakville, Ont. — a strategy that forms the centrepiece of a massive redevelopment of the auto maker's key Canadian assem_bly operations.
The two new SUVs were origi_nally intended to be assembled at a Ford factory in Atlanta, industry sources said, which means the plan to shift them to Oakville is a major win for Canada.
Ford's proposal for Oakville, gleaned through interviews with industry sources in both Canada and the United States, includes:
Beginning production of an estimated 200,000 of the SUVs — code-named U387 and U388 — at the Oakville Assembly Plant (OAP) in August, 2006;
Redesigning the Ford Freestar and Monterey minivans assem_bled at the OAP for the 2008 model year, so that they are produced on the same platform — the under_body structure of a vehicle — as the SUVs and crank out perhaps 150,000 of those vehicles beginning in 2007;
Turning the neighbouring Ontario Truck Plant, which is sched_uled to end production of F-series pickup trucks next year, into a body shop for the OAP.
Those kinds of production num_bers would mean the OAP would turn out up to 350,000 vehicles a year, making it a three-shift opera_tion. About 3,200 people now work on two shifts there, and the truck plant employs about 1,400 people on a single shift.
"We aren't ready to discuss fu_ture plans for Oakville right now," John Jelinek, vice-president of public affairs for Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd., said yesterday. "There will be a lot of speculation in the months ahead while we're putting forth our business case."
The key to the proposal is making use of a single platform to serve as the base for several mod_els — in this case, Ford's CD132 platform, which will serve as the base for the two SUVs. The Freestar and Monterey will be re_designed and shifted to that platform from their current platform, WIN126.
It's a flexible manufacturing strategy that is almost exactly the same as that adopted by Honda of Canada Mfg. in Alliston, Ont., which turns out the Odyssey mini_van and Honda Pilot and Acura MDX SUVs off the same platform, but on one assembly line.
The new Ford SUVs are sized between the current Ford Escape and Explorer SUVs, but are aimed more at the exploding market for so-called crossover utility vehicles that combine the ride and han_dling of a car with the utility of an SUV.
One will be assembled for Ford's luxury Lincoln brand and will target the RX330 SUV built for Lexus, Toyota Motor Corp.'s lux_ury division, and the Acura MDX, one source familiar with the plan said.
Senior executives of both Ford and Ford Canada have discussed only in vague terms publicly their proposal to turn the OAP into a state-of-the-art, flexible manufac_turing operation later in the dec_ade.
The idea first arose in negotia_tions with the Canadian Auto Workers union last fall, when the union was seeking to head off the closing of the truck plant.
The CAW agreed not to go on strike to try to block the shutdown in return for Ford Canada promis_ing to add 900 jobs at the minivan plant and the auto maker sharing a long-term vision of the OAP that included flexible manufacturing, a next generation vehicle platform with several models and possibly a supplier park for parts makers.
The letter outlining those possi_bilities said such a major change at Oakville would require financial assistance from Ottawa and Ontario.
Ford North America president Jim Padilla said in February that redeveloping Oakville would cost more than $1-billion and govern_ments would be expected to con_tribute 20 per cent of the cost in the form of training grants, infra_structure improvements and tax rebates.
Mr. Jelinek said the auto maker is expecting to present a formal proposal to the governments some time during the next several months once the internal business case for the Oakville site is made final.
The industry sources cautioned that product and assembly plant plans could change, depending on the economy, Ford's current re_structuring plan, consumer re_sponses to the new vehicles before they're brought to market and the attitude of the United Auto Work_ers union.
The UAW is to begin contract talks with Ford next month, and the auto maker's plans to close some U.S. plants are certain to be a key issue.
The UAW is almost certain to be angry about new vehicle programs being shifted to Oakville from At_lanta, industry sources said.
"They'll do more than flip out; they'll have a baby," one industry source said.
The plants that are located in Oakville produced a total of 317,794 minivans and pickup trucks last year.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....