Automaker will spend $410 million to consolidate Focus production, build longer Expedition
By Ed Garsten / The Detroit News
WAYNE -- Ford Motor Co. plans to spend $410 million to expand production at its two assembly plants in the city of Wayne, a move that will help ensure the long-term employment outlook for more than 7,000 employees.
Within the next two or three years, the automaker expects to consolidate production of its Focus small car at its Wayne Assembly plant and build a new longer version of its Expedition sport-utility vehicle at its nearby Michigan Truck plant, which already produces the standard Expedition and Lincoln Navigators SUVs.
Details of Ford's expansion project were included in an application to Wayne for a 12-year tax abatement, said Peter McInerney, the city's community planning director. Ford is seeking state tax breaks, too.
Ford declined to outline its plans but has scheduled an announcement next month regarding its operations in Wayne.
"We're looking at a number of options at Wayne Assembly," Ford spokesman Ed Lewis said.
However, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano told The Detroit News that the automaker informed him of its expansion plans.
Ford will move production of three and five-door versions of the Focus to Wayne Assembly from its plant in Hermosillo, Mexico. Wayne Assembly will become the sole North American plant building the compact car.
As part of the move, McInerney said Ford will also relocate some stamping operations to Wayne from Mexico.
It's a vote of confidence for the Wayne plant, which has been dogged by union infighting and production glitches. The problems now seem largely smoothed out.
Launched four years ago, the Ford Focus is one of the automaker's most successful products, despite a history of recalls and quality woes. But manufacturing and engineering improvements have paid off for Ford in resurrecting the Focus's reputation.
Earlier this month, in its annual new car preview issue, Consumer Reports recommended the Focus for the first time.
The Hermosillo factory that now builds the three- and five-door Focus will begin producing a new midsize car, the Ford Futura, in 2005, forcing the automaker to move production. Wayne Assembly now builds four-door and wagon versions of the Focus.
Ford plans to install modern, flexible body shops -- where the skeleton of a car or truck is first assembled -- at Wayne Assembly and Michigan Truck, allowing them to build multiple models.
The truck plant, located next to the car factory on Michigan Avenue, will begin building a new sport-utility vehicle based on the Expedition in two or three years, according to McInerney.
Ford is building the extended Expedition to eventually replace its hulking Excursion SUV, which has struggled to compete with the Chevrolet Suburban. Ford will continue building the Excursion until the new vehicle goes into production.
Wayne Assembly employs about 3,750 hourly and salaried workers and about 4,000 people work at Michigan Truck.
The expansions are not expected to create jobs but will help stabilize employment at the plants at a time when Ford is actively reducing its global work force.
"Ford's sizable investment will strengthen both the car and truck plants," Wayne City Manager John Zech said.
The bulk of Ford's investment will be for building improvements and new machinery and equipment at both plants.
"It makes sense to consolidate production," said Mike Jackson, an analyst with Farmington Hills-based con******ts CSM Worldwide.
"You get better control, better oversight and most importantly, it's going to help capacity utilization."
Wayne Assembly is equipped to produce 280,000 vehicles a year without overtime. In 2002, 98 percent of the plant's capacity was used.
With U.S. demand for the Focus down 7.1 percent this year, CSM Worldwide estimates just 74 percent of the factory's capacity will be used in 2003.
Adding production of the three- and five-door Focus will help Ford better utilize the plant, Jackson said.
A public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 2 on Ford's application for the tax abatements, but McInerney does not expect any serious opposition.
"We've been through this in the past and the city is supportive of the company's efforts," he said.
Ford plans to renovate two southeast Michigan factories to consolidate North American output of the Focus small car, and introduce a longer version of the Expedition full-size SUV. The plants at a glance:
Location: Wayne, Mich.
Products: Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator SUVs
Salary work force: 202
2002 output: 210,300
Hourly work force: 3,402 (850 hourly employees on indefinite layoff since late 2001)
History: Opened in 1964
Location: Wayne, Mich
Products: Focus 4-door, wagon models
Salary work force: 244
2002 output: 251,879 units
Hourly work force: 3,611
History: Opened in 1952
Source: Ford Motor