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Chicago, Oakville get new Lincolns
Production targets are closer to reality than past programs

Amy Wilson
Automotive News

DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. plants in Chicago and Oakville, Ontario, will get the new Lincoln sedans and minivan replacements once slated for the doomed Atlanta plant.

And the automaker says it now will give suppliers lower, more realistic volume projections for new vehicles.

Atlanta, which ends production later this year, is one of 14 plants Ford intends to close through 2012, eliminating up to 30,000 plant jobs. It's all part of the Way Forward North American restructuring plan announced Jan. 23.

In late January, Ford Motor updated suppliers on the Atlanta programs. Suppliers who attended the meeting in Dearborn, Mich., said Ford shared specific production volumes for the new vehicles that are more conservative than projections on past programs.

Ford acknowledged that planning volumes on new-vehicle programs have been too high in the past, said one supplier in attendance.

"People spend money on investment based on that," said the supplier, who requested anonymity. "You end up upside down because you've got additional capacity."

As part of Ford's pledge to work more collaboratively with its suppliers, the automaker intends to project more realistic planning volumes, Ford spokesman Paul Wood confirmed.

"It's a fair statement that suppliers tend to discount what we've told them," he said.

The meeting on the Atlanta products marks the start of Ford's initiative to be more realistic about planning volumes, Wood said.

Taurus ends Aug. 31
Ford had spent nearly two years planning a major overhaul of the Atlanta plant after the death of its current product, the Ford Taurus sedan.

But the automaker ultimately deemed it couldn't afford to keep Atlanta open. That plant, one of Ford's most productive, is scheduled to end Taurus production on Aug. 31, though it could be briefly extended, says a source at the plant.

Here are new locations, timing and volume projections for the products once intended for Atlanta:

The first of two Lincolns, the production version of the MKS sedan concept shown at last month's Detroit auto show, will be assembled in Chicago beginning in February 2008, suppliers said. Code-named d385, its volume is projected at about 50,000 units annually, they said.

"That is definitely going into production pretty much as shown at the auto show," said another supplier who attended the meeting.

The location change means the Job 1 date will slip by several months. At one time, Ford had planned to launch the vehicle in Atlanta in fall 2007.

A derivative of the MKS, also for Lincoln, will go into production later in 2008 or in 2009. The production site for the derivative also is likely to be Chicago, although Ford didn't confirm the final assembly location, suppliers said. Volume is forecast at 15,000 units annually, they said.

That derivative is the car formerly known by the e386 program code, which originally had been described as a large Town Car-sized sedan. Ford told suppliers it would reclassify it as a smaller, d-size vehicle and provide a new program code at a later date. Examples of d-size vehicles include the Ford Five Hundred sedan.

'People mover' coming

A minivan replacement based on the Ford Fairlane concept is now set to go into production in Oakville beginning in February 2008. Ford calls the vehicle, code-named d471, a "people mover." Ford is forecasting volume at 103,000 vehicles annually, suppliers said. That likely will include 12,000 hybrids, one supplier said.

The production version of the Fairlane is expected to replace the Ford Freestar minivan, which has sold poorly since its 2003 launch.

Some suppliers and industry forecasters have speculated that Ford will drop the Freestar early. Ford won't talk about the ultimate plan for the Freestar and its Mercury Monterey companion. But Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said on Jan. 23 that there will be a 2007 Freestar.

The Ford people mover will be accompanied by a Lincoln version, code-named d472, also to be built in Oakville, suppliers said. Ford is forecasting 26,000 Lincoln units annually. That should include 3,000 hybrids, one supplier said.

No more Adrenalin

In other product news, Ford confirmed last week that it has dropped its plan for a high-performance Ford Sport Trac Adrenalin. The automaker previously had announced that the Adrenalin version, a Special Vehicle Team project, would go into production in 2007.

"We're committed to performance vehicles at Ford," spokesman Jon Harmon said. "As part of the Way Forward plan, we are adjusting our product plan, and we decided not to produce the Sport Trac Adrenalin."

The SVT group is devoting all its energy to bringing out the 2007 Shelby Cobra GT500 later this year, Harmon said. He wouldn't say whether there are any SVT products beyond the GT500.

The Lincoln LS sedan and the Ford GT sports car will be discontinued later this year. Both are assembled at Ford's plant in Wixom, Mich., another shutdown target. Ford already had said the LS and the GT would end this year.
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