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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Ford's reinvention is taking shape

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Ford's reinvention is taking shape

All-new Focus starts rolling off the line

By BRENT SNAVELY

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

This week, Ford took the Free Press on a tour of the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, a factory in which Ford has invested $550 million to convert from a big SUV factory to one that is beginning to build small, fuel-efficient Focus compact cars.

“This truck plant made money for Ford,” said Cornelius Meads, a UAW team leader who has worked for Ford for 15 years. “We are hoping the car can do the same.”

Ford’s successful transition back to popular carmaker — its car lineup includes the Fiesta subcompact, Focus compact, Fusion midsize and Taurus large sedan — is one of the factors that is contributing to Ford’s increasing financial success.

Today, Ford is expected to report a second-quarter profit of about $1.6 billion before special charges, marking its sixth straight profitable quarter.

“In the U.S., we were known as a Mustang, SUV and truck company,” Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally told the Free Press last week. “Because of our agreements with the UAW and our cost structure, we couldn’t build cars in the U.S. profitably.”

Now, Mulally said, that has changed.

A new global Focus on the way

The first batch of pre-production Focus compact cars are coming off the assembly line at the Michigan Assembly Plant, which has been under construction to build the new Focus for months.

Workers at the factory are assembling about a half-dozen cars per day that are drivable, but won’t be sold to the public. Those cars will help Ford smooth out the production process and ensure the quality of the new car.

“We’re building finally,” Plant Manager Rob Webber said. “We are done talking about it so much and now we are actually building.”

Meads of Ypsilanti said the new Focus has all different parts than the outgoing Focus, which is still being built at the neighboring Wayne Assembly Plant, as well as a more exciting design.

“This car will help Ford a lot,” Meads said.

Plans to build cars profitably

Even though the Ford Focus has been a formidable contender in the compact car segment since the Focus was introduced in the U.S. 1999, the redesigned 2012 Focus is even more important to Ford’s future.

By 2012, Ford expects to produce 10 small cars, crossovers and small utility vehicles globally from the underpinnings of the new Focus with a total annual volume of about 2 million.

“It is the first truly global Ford Focus that the U.S. market has seen,” said Dan Montague, a senior automotive analyst for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

That efficiency will result in improved savings, and ideally, improved profits.

For decades, domestic automakers have struggled to make a profit off of passenger cars while Asian automakers, with non-unionized plants, have succeeded with cars such as the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic.

But now, Mulally said, both the anticipated volume from global platforms and new deals with the UAW have lowered the cost of car-building in the U.S.

“We can now make cars in the U.S. and make them profitably,” Mulally said. “So we are converting truck plants to car plants.”

Ford also converted its plant in Cuautitlan, Mexico, from a truck plant to build the Ford Fiesta compact car and is converting its Louisville Assembly Plant from an SUV plant into a plant that will build vehicles from the same platform as the Ford Focus.

Shifting Focus production

Production of the new Focus is scheduled to begin by the end of this year and the car is expected to reach dealerships early next year as a 2012 model.

Ford also plans to begin producing an electric version of the Focus at Michigan Assembly next year.

When production begins at Michigan Assembly, Ford plans to move 3,200 workers from the neighboring Wayne Assembly Plant to Michigan Assembly and then close Wayne Assembly.

While Jeff Carter, vice president of UAW Local 900 in Wayne, said the UAW is thankful that Michigan Assembly was selected for the redesigned Focus, he said he’s also working hard to convince Ford to continue to use Wayne Assembly for another future product.

“We are up to any challenge,” he said.

link:

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100723/BUSINESS01/307230002/1331/Fords-reinvention-is-taking-shape&template=fullarticle

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