Ford could exceed commitment to add 12,000 jobs by 2016

DEARBORN — Ford could exceed its commitment to hire 12,000 people by the end of 2015.

“There is a high probability we will surpass that number,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas, said in an interview.

Hinrichs is at Ford’s retooled Kansas City plant today where almost 5,000 employees have started assembly of the 2015 Ford Transit that is being built and sold in the U.S. for the first time.

The workforce includes an additional 2,000 employees, most of them new hires, to add a third crew to the plant where Ford has invested $1.1 billion to add production of the full-size commercial van now and prepare to make the 2015 F-150 full-size pickup next year.

Kansas City has 4,878 hourly workers on three crews. The third crew was added in the third quarter of 2013.

With the new workers Ford is more than 75% towards its goal to create 12,000 hourly jobs in the U.S. by the end of next year. It is part of a commitment made to the UAW in bargaining in 2011. Extra workers have been added to plants in Flat Rock and at Michigan Assembly as well as Louisville and Lima, Ohio. Roughly 300 jobs will be added to the Cleveland engine plant later this year.

In 2014 alone, Ford will hire nearly 5,000 hourly and salaried employees in the U.S. to support overall growth.

Hinrichs said how many more jobs are created will depend on demand for Ford products. This year has triple the number of launches planned in North America: 16 compared to five last year. They are part of the larger plan to introduce 23 new vehicle globally this year.

Top priority is launching them with high quality, Hinrichs said. Ford took a $500 million hit in its first-quarter earnings to cover warranty, recall and service costs for vehicles dating back to the 2001 model year. It is a figure that is constantly updated.

On a positive note, Hinrichs said warranty costs in the last couple months have been the lowest Ford has ever recorded.

The Transit launch is deliberately slow because it is a new and complicated vehicle with a choice of three roof heights, two wheelbases, three body lengths and a gasoline or diesel engine. It is being built by new employees in a plant with new body and paint shops as well as a new final assembly line.

The van has traditionally been built and sold in Europe. For the 2015 model year, it will be available in North America and will replace the long-standing Econoline van which will be gradually phased out. Ford will continue to sell the E-Series cutaway and stripped chassis and has been working with fleet customers for a couple years to prepare them for the switch from the boxy E-Series to the Euro-styled Transit.

To add the Transit and expand production of the F-150, Ford added a 437,000-square-foot stamping facility and built a new, modern paint shop. Almost 550 new robots were added in the body shop in addition to new tooling of the assembly line and 18 new conveyor systems.

Hinrichs and other officials are in Kansas City today to celebrate Transit production. The vans go on sale this summer.

Kansas City is essentially two plants under one roof. The F-150 portion will go down in the new year to gear up to make the all-new 2015 pickup. It will require a new body shop because the new truck will be made of aluminum instead of traditional steel.

“These upgrades have helped make the Kansas City plant the global standard for Ford’s new manufacturing facilities across the world,” said Bruce Hettle, Ford vice president, North America manufacturing. “To support Ford’s global growth, in 2014 we will open three new manufacturing facilities — two of them in Asia Pacific and one in South America.”

Hinrichs said the Kansas City plant is the final piece of an overhaul of a number of Ford plants and a shifting of where some key models are made. It is the culmination of a plan that was seven years in the making, he said.

Kansas City, for example, used to make the Ford Escape which was moved to the retooled Louisville plant. Kansas City also makes the Ford F-150 pickup and will switch to the new aluminum-bodied 2015 model next year.

“The good news keeps rolling in for the dedicated, hard-working men and women of UAW Local 249,” said Jimmy Settles, UAW vice president, National Ford Department. “The addition of Transit to the Kansas City Assembly Plant line is a testament to the great work our members here and across the nation are doing every day, and helps solidify the future of Kansas City Assembly.”

“Today represents much more than a next-generation vehicle rolling off an American assembly line for the first time, it represents another huge milestone for Missouri as we continue to lead the rebirth of the American auto industry,” Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement. “With the all-new Transit, Ford’s historic investment in Missouri has brought another outstanding vehicle to consumers and thousands of good manufacturing jobs to our state. Today, the ‘Made in Missouri’ brand is back and stronger than ever.”

Of the roughly 100 suppliers contributing to the Transit, eight local suppliers expanded their business for the commercial van including stamping provider Cosma International, instrument panel assembler Piston Automotive and headliner manufacturer Grupo Antolin which built brand-new facilities to support Transit. Seat supplier Magna International expanded its Kansas City manufacturing facility.

Some local upfitters have also established local facilities near the plant to take the vans and customize them for their customers.

Transit was introduced in Europe in 1965 and is sold in 118 markets on six continents. “It is very important to our commercial business,” Hinrichs said. “There is a lot of pride in this.”

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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