Small-vehicle production ramps up

Ford Motor Co. plans to convert a body shop that will eventually produce smaller vehicles.


Ford Motor Co. will invest $75 million in Michigan Truck Plant’s body shop to prepare for small-vehicle production .

The robotic welders and other equipment that are currently building SUVs at Ford
The plant will begin converting its body shop in November when the tooling and equipment specific to the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator will be disassembled and transferred to Kentucky Truck Plant, which begins producing the large SUVs in the second quarter of 2009.

The move paves the way for Michigan Truck to convert to a car plant that will begin producing global C-car based vehicles in 2010.

In the interim, the plant’s 1,000 employees will be transferred next door to Wayne Assembly Plant where a third crew will be added in January to accommodate increased production of the hot-selling Ford Focus.

Michigan Truck is one of three truck and SUV plants in North America that will be converted to build small fuel-efficient compact and subcompact vehicles. Cuautitlan Assembly , which currently produces F-Series pickups, will begin building the new Fiesta subcompact car for North America. Louisville Assembly , home of the Ford Explorer mid-size SUV, is slated to start production of yet more unique small vehicles from the automaker’s global C-car platform the following year.

At the heart of this manufacturing transformation is a flexible operation, which uses reprogrammable tooling in the body shop, standardized equipment in the paint shop and common-build sequence in final assembly, enabling production of multiple models in the same plant.

Producing more compact and subcompact cars will yield significant gains in fuel economy for Ford, but of course those gains will be gradual and incremental. Looking more toward those technologies that can yield revolutionary gains in fuel economy, the Progressive Automotive X Prize announced recently that it is now accepting official registrations for its competition.

To date, more than 120 teams from 17 countries have declared their intent to compete for the $10 million prize, which will be awarded those that can design and build production-capable, market-friendly vehicles able to achieve the equivalent of at least 100 mpg. Teams have until the end of this year to register, and those that qualify will participate in a long-distance stage race that will be judged on speed, distance, urban driving and overall performance, while also having to meet the fuel economy goal and strict emissions standards. DOE is providing nearly $3.5 million for education and outreach related to the prize.

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