As Ford Motor Company struggles to regain its footing in the auto manufacturing industry, Louisvillians are waiting for news about how the city’s two Ford plants will fit into the company’s future. WFPL’s Stephanie Sanders has more on how Ford’s Louisville operations must change to survive.
Gary Sowers has been employed at Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant on Chamberlain Lane in Louisville for 13 years, but he’s not working at all this month. The entire plant that makes Super-Duty trucks is shut down for July as part of company cutbacks as Ford tries to return to financial solvency. Before that, it was cutting production from five-days-a-week to four-days…Sowers says rolling layoffs will continue when workers return in August.
“It’s good they’re not indefinitely laying off a bunch of people, they’re rotating the layoff, because then it keeps the majority of people there working some here and there,” says Sowers
Local United Auto Workers Union president Rocky Comito says the constant shift changes over the last few months have emotionally exhausted the workforce, but they’re up to the challenge.
“I think that’s the biggest thing Ford Motor Company realizes with the plants here in Louisville is that they want them to stay and they want them to be here because the workforce is so outstanding,” says Comito.
But a great workforce isn’t the only piece of a successful car company.
“For 33 straight years, Ford’s been number-one, for any type of vehicle sold, has been the F-Series truck, and that’s been the toughest hit,” says Marty Book.
He’s the Vice-President of Carriage Ford in Clarksville. Nationwide over the last six months, sales of Ford F-Series trucks have declined nearly 23-percent and Explorer SUV sales are down 33-percent. 36-hundred workers build the F-Series at Kentucky Truck Plant, and another 19-hundred build SUVs at Louisville Assembly Plant.
While sales of those vehicles were slipping, no doubt in part because of rising gas prices, sales of the smaller, more fuel-efficient Focus increased nearly 28-percent.
“Focus sales have obviously been our staple here lately. And really what’s happened with, not just Ford, with everybody, it’s been cars,” says Book.
The good news for Louisville is that Ford officials have previously promised to bring production of a new vehicle to Louisville Assembly by 2010. Reporter Amy Wilson has been following the story for Detroit-based Automotive News.
“We’re hearing from several of our sources that Ford is making plans internally to produce the Focus at the Louisville plant,” says Wilson.
Industry analyst David Cole with the Center for Automotive Research says the transition from Explorer to Focus would also have long-term benefits.
“What they will do in the conversion of that plant is make it a much more flexible plant that could accommodate a range of vehicles fairly quickly and that would really be a very important and positive thing for your area,” says Cole.
But the story is a little different at Kentucky Truck Plant. It has received no such promise from the company and Cole says it’s a different ball game in the pickup truck market. He says although sales are down right now, they could rebound, as trucks are necessary in certain industries, no matter how much gas costs.
The risk to Kentucky Truck, says Cole, is the company may have too many factories producing Super-Duty trucks for the shrinking market and some may have to go…. and local leaders should stay ahead of such a scenario.
“There’s nothing more important, in my judgment, than really a proactive community, where you come to Ford and say we know there’s problems, it’s a tough time, we’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure we are the location of choice for the Ford Motor Company,” says Cole.
City and state leaders came to the rescue when the Louisville Assembly Plant needed help a few months ago. It was on the brink of closure when a Kentucky delegation traveled to Michigan to offer tax incentives.
Ford executives say they’ll announce plans in the next few weeks to reconfigure the company’s North American operations. The state’s economic development leaders meet at the end of this month to discuss additional incentives to try to entice Ford to consider further investments at the two plants in Louisville.