United States:Ford gives Taurus a longer life; plan for new plant postponed
By AMY WILSON | Automotive News
DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. has put a new greenfield assembly plant in Georgia on hold. That means Ford will squeeze several more years out of its Atlanta manufacturing plant and the Ford Taurus.
A company source who declined to be identified says Ford will freshen the Taurus, possibly for the 2006 model year. A union source in Atlanta says Ford will produce the Taurus and its companion, the Mercury Sable, through the 2009 model year.
The company had not said precisely when it would stop producing the Taurus and Sable. But if the plant had been built, the Taurus and Sable line was slated to shut down by mid-2005, says Mitchell Smith, shop chairman of UAW Local 882. The Atlanta work force would then have started building sport wagons based on the Mazda6 platform at a new plant in February 2006.
Those sport wagons, among the 10 new Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles slated to be built off the Mazda6 platform, are scheduled to be built at Ford's Oakville, Ontario, minivan plant beginning in August 2006. Ford is studying whether to drop the wagon versions of the Taurus and Sable, Smith says.
Extending the Taurus will crowd Ford's mid-sized car lineup later in the decade as other new products arrive. But a longer run for the Taurus will provide jobs for Atlanta workers.
Ford had been scouting sites in Georgia's Meriwether and Morgan counties, each about an hour away from Atlanta. The plant, dubbed Project Fairlane, would have included a stamping plant and separate buildings handling body, paint and final assembly for 240,000 vehicles annually, said a source familiar with the plans.
Ford spokesman Jon Harmon declined to comment other than to say that Atlanta is an important part of Ford's long-term manufacturing plans. But planning for any new plant is on indefinite hold, according to suppliers and the Ford source.
The Taurus will remain in dealer showrooms after its replacement, the Ford Futura, arrives in 2005.
"Taurus will continue there for quite some time," the Ford source said. "It certainly will be heavily fleet; it will also be a retail option as a value proposition."
Fleets account for about 60 percent of Taurus sales; that could rise to 70 percent or so, the Ford source said.
Ford initially had studied whether to build the Futura, also based on the Mazda6, at a new Georgia plant, the UAW's Smith says. But up to 400,000 units of the Futura and its derivatives are scheduled to be built in Hermosillo, Mexico, he says. Hermosillo builds the Focus small car and could be expanded.
The decision to extend the life of the Taurus seems driven more by the need to keep plants open and UAW members at work. It will lead to a crowded lineup of Ford sedans later this decade, with the Focus, Futura, Taurus and the new Five Hundred.
"It seems unnecessary, so obviously it's driven from the manufacturing side," says Jeff Schuster, director of North American forecasting for J.D. Power and Associates. "It certainly keeps volume up, but I can't imagine (Taurus) sticking in the retail end that long."
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My next Ford.....