Re: U.S.A.:Ford to spend $325 million on new transmissions
2 Ford plants get $325 million boost
Automaker will upgrade Livonia and Ohio factories to produce 6-speed transmissions
By Ed Garsten / The Detroit News
LIVONIA -- Ford Motor Co. will invest up to $325 million to upgrade transmission plants in Livonia and Sharonville, Ohio, to build a new six-speed, automatic gearbox for rear-wheel drive vehicles.
The move, which comes as rear-wheel drive cars are returning to vogue, is part of Ford's long-term plan to replace 60 percent of its North American transmission lineup by 2008 and improve the fuel economy of its vehicles by 4 to 8 percent.
The investment will allow Ford to catch up with rival Asian and European automakers who have moved faster to replace outmoded three and four-speed automatic transmissions with five and six-speed versions.
"It's a long time coming but they're slowly, but surely making inroads," said Mike Wall, an analyst with industry con******t CSM Worldwide in Farmington Hills.
"All the automakers are looking for that Holy Grail of improvement in fuel economy and a smoother ride."
For Ford, upgrading its family of powertrains line is a key element of a turnaround plan started nearly two years ago.
"Since last November we've invested more than $1.3 billion in powertrain plants in North America," Ford executive vice president Jim Padilla said Thursday.
"Clearly there's a revolution going on under the hood with Ford products."
To produce the new transmission, Ford will spend about $170 million on a new final assembly and advanced testing area, new case and valve-body machining lines and a new main control assembly line at the Livonia plant.
Production of the new gearbox is scheduled to begin by mid-2005. It is the first new product awarded to the Livonia plant since 1984.
The remaining $155 million will be spent to upgrade a factory in Sharonville, Ohio, near Cincinnati to produce gears for the new transmission. The gears will be shipped to Livonia for final assembly.
Ford said the investment is not expected to create any new jobs.
The Livonia plant, first built in 1952 to produce Army tanks, employs more than 2,500 workers. The Sharonville plant employs more than 2,200.
The new transmission will be installed in a number of future Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles including passenger cars and sport-utility vehicles such as the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer.
Six-speed automatic transmissions, which provide smoother shifting and more fuel economy, represent the next frontier for automotive powertrains, said Dave Szczupak, Ford's vice president in charge of powertrains.
Less than 1 percent of vehicles sold today are equipped with six-speed automatic transmissions, but Ford expects 15 to 20 percent of all cars and trucks to be built with such transmissions by 2010.
Ford is already working with General Motors Corp. to develop a front-wheel drive six-speed automatic transmission that will boost the fuel economy of a typical 4-speed transmission by 4 to 8 percent.
At the same time, the Dearborn-based automaker is gearing up to produce continuously variable transmissions, which substitute a chain belt for traditional stepped gears while providing smoother shifting.
CVTs will be available in the new Ford Freestyle crossover vehicle and Five Hundred and Mercury Montego sedans beginning in 2004.
About Ford's Livonia transmission plant
Employees: 2,605 hourly, 332 salaried
Products: transaxles, transmissions, gear sets, torque converters
Plant size: 3.3 million square feet
2002 output: 1,035,014 automatic transmissions, or 3,700 a day
History: Opened in 1952 to build Army tanks
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My next Ford.....