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Sources: Ford to bring Explorer production, 1,200 jobs, to Chicago


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Ford is expected to announce plans Tuesday to shift production of the next-generation Explorer from Louisville to Chicago, adding some 1,200 workers to the Torrence Avenue assembly plant, according to people familiar with the situation.

The move likely means a second production shift will be added to the South Side facility, with operations also bolstered at Ford's stamping plant in Chicago Heights.

The new downsized and more fuel-efficient SUV is expected to be rolled out in the fourth quarter. It shares a platform with the Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS, which are both built in Chicago.

Ford officials declined to comment.

Industry experts have said the next-generation Explorer will get 20 percent to 25 percent better mileage than the truck-based model it replaces. It will be a " high-volume, high-profit, car-based crossover," John Wolkonowicz, an analyst with IHS Global Insight said last year.

While the U.S. auto industry has going through an extraordinary retrenchment in the past few years, shedding roughly 40,000 jobs in 2009, car makers are investing in future production, especially of more fuel-efficient vehicles. And they do have plans to add workers this year - more than 4,000 workers by some estimates.

It's a sign that the big manufacturers expect business to improve. In particular, several automakers are making big investments in their lines of light trucks as they anticipate that an improved outlook for housing and construction will encourage contractors and others to buy new vehicles.

On Thursday, Ford, which earned $1.8 billion for the first nine months of 2009, is poised to report a profit in the fourth quarter, according to analysts.

That would enable Ford to report a profit for the full year for the first time since 2005. While some analysts still expect Ford to report a loss for the full year, a few predict Ford's 2009 profit could be as high as $2.8 billion.

Ford's turnaround started a restructuring plan launched in January 2006.

Ford has closed 14 assembly and parts plants in North America and slashed its hourly workforce in half, to just over 50,000. Ford also sold Jaguar and Land Rover, reduced its ownership in Mazda and is close to selling Volvo for $2 billion.

Last year, new products such as the redesigned Ford Fusion midsize sedan and the Fusion Hybrid helped the company gain market share in the U.S., while the all-new Ford Fiesta and Ford Ka subcompacts helped the company gain market share in Europe.

Over the next 15 months in the U.S., Ford plans to launch a redesigned Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers, a redesigned Super Duty pickup, a Mustang GT with a bigger V8 engine and the Ford Focus compact car, as well as the Explorer.

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a few reasons.

one, nobody knows what a flex is. everyone knows what 'ford explorer' is.

secondly, the flex is too damn weird to sell in enough volume to a customer demographic that is very sensitive to middle of the road in concept, design, and packaging. the flex is confused crossover. its a neat package, and interesting, but is a bit unsettling for baseball hot dogs and apple pie folks. the ford explorer is not zesty like the edge, or confused like the flex.

three the flex is more of a wagon. it lacks a taller seat of the SUV's people really like, and it lacks width and cargo capacity. although, i do not know what its cargo hold space can hold vs. a Flex. remember, the edge is only a 2 row.

the lambda styling is pretty nice. and it balances sporty and trucky very well. i expect the explorer to represent its trucky past but maybe have a little bit of contemporary crossover style blended in. but you will not mistake it for a cx-9.

to be honest i really didn't like the explorer america concept.

think of it this way. the edge is for the outgoing single or couples with no offspring or maybe they just don't want to telegraph the hard reality that they are getting old and have spawned. the flex is for the mentally complex and aloof folks, and those who think they are getting on some sort of trend. the explorer really represents ford trying to claim back some volume in the large people mover segments.

personally i think the flex is vulnerable for extinction unless they get rid of the weird factor and add cargo space and girth. or really ford, just bring back the minivan. with awd this time.

i actually can't wait to see the ecoboost application in these ford suv products. for example, if they can trim the curb weight of the edge like has been discussed with lots of weight saving high strength steel, and the 4 cylinder engine and front drive, i hope the edge can boost its mpg numbers up to a much better level.

Edited by regfootball
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yep, that works.

to me, the Explorer needs to be a tish bigger than its current incarnation. the edge is PERFECT size. the escape is not a bad size vehicle actually (although the outlander has the best cargo area in that segment). the Flex really needs more girth and cargo capacity, somewhere closer to a minivan or expedition.

I wish Ford would build a vehicle the size of the expedition, on a unibody chassis, with the 3.5 ecoboost and like an 8 speed automatic.

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there are still plenty of folks who want big vehicles.

the lambdas actually are not all that far off in size from a basic expedition. the exp weighs more due to its full frame construction. you could likely take at least 500 pounds off an exp just with a new chassis approach. the v6 ecoboost could power it nicely and it would return epa ratings probably at least 15% better than a fuel sucking v8 expe, but for a vehicle the same size and possibly even better passenger and cargo space in the rear.

lots of folks who have extended families and take trips, or folks in rural areas like big vehicles. hockey parents who schlep 6 kids and hockey gear hundreds of miles for weekend hockey tournaments and such love vehicles like suburbans. but this breed can be improved for people transport and does not need to lose its size.

you might only be talking 30k units a year but if you invested in a platform like that it would be for ten years. and it would be a lot more functional than say, a 3 ton ugly Q7.

there is even a market out there that is being neglected. the four row vehicle. lots of schools, universities, daycares, churches, rental shuttles, hotel shuttles, etc. like to purchase 4 row vehicles for special student transport, or field trips, etc. the Savana Express type vehicles always defaulted to being that type of vehicle but their vehicle dynamics are poor.

Edited by regfootball
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