Ford builds plug-ins, "wild Focus" at flexible Michigan plant

Thu Nov 8, 2012 12:09am EST
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By Deepa Seetharaman

DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co (F.N: Quote) marked on Thursday the production launch of its latest plug-in hybrid at a former SUV factory that now serves as a model for the second-largest U.S. automaker's global manufacturing strategy.

With production of the C-Max Energi, the Michigan Assembly Plant is now the only factory in the world to build gas-powered, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars all on the same production line, according to the company.

"In the future, globally, we'll have plants that produce multiple platforms, multiple powertrain choices and multiple body styles," said Jim Tetreault, head of manufacturing in North America.

Michigan Assembly is the latest illustration of Ford's strategy to retool plants and train workers to build a wider range of models. The move lowers Ford's production costs, while allowing it to adapt more quickly to changes in consumer demand.

The flexibility at Michigan Assembly, which can build five body styles on two platforms, is key as Ford offers electric and hybrid cars whose sales have been unpredictable.

"We didn't want to get trapped in having dedicated lines for electrified vehicles and dedicating all that capital to a single line of vehicles," Tetreault said.

Ford announced in May 2009 that it was spending $550 million to overhaul the 55-year-old plant, which made the Expedition and Lincoln Navigator full-size SUVs. Now, Ford makes the C-Max hybrid and plug-in as well as electric and gas-powered versions of the Ford Focus compact car.

This includes a sport version of the Focus that gets 252 horsepower, which Tetreault calls the "wild Focus."   Continued...

A Ford Fiesta vehicle sits for sale on a dealership lot in Encinitas, California July 25, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake