Ford celebrated its $600 million investment at Louisville Assembly today where the new Ford Escape utility vehicle is now rolling off the line and being shipped to dealers.
The automaker has high hopes for the all-new 2013 Escape that has a sleeker, more European look and better fuel efficiency than the more truck-like version it replaces.
Ford converted the Kentucky plant which used to make the Ford Explorer.
"Today marks a celebration of progress and transformation," said Mark Fields, Ford's president of The Americas. "Louisville Assembly Plant's reinvention illustrates how Ford is going further, continuing to invest in American manufacturing and new jobs while delivering even more of the fuel-efficient vehicles that give customers true power of choice."
Louisville already added 1,800 jobs for a second shift and 1,300 more will form a third shift this fall bringing total hourly employment at the plant to 4,200.
Suppliers such as Magna, Faurecia, Martinrea and Piston Automotive have invested more than $56 million in Louisville and are adding more than 900 jobs, many of them to support the new Escape.
In May Ford added jobs at five facilities, including Louisville, as part of its plan to increase annual production by 400,000 vehicles. The automaker has said it will lose market share this year because it has had inventory shortages. Nationwide Ford has added more than 5,200 hourly jobs already this year as part of a previously announced plan to add 12,000 jobs in the U.S. by 2015.
Reprogrammable tooling in the body shop makes it possible to produce up to six different vehicles at the same time, making it Ford's most flexible U.S. plant.
"Manufacturing flexibility is critical to staying competitive in today's global automotive marketplace," said Jim Tetreault, head of North America Manufacturing. "Our ability to produce up to six vehicles from a single plant gives us a sizable advantage in quickly adjusting our products and volumes to match changes in customer preferences and market factors."
Louisville is the third Ford plant in North America to convert from making body-on-frame trucks and SUVs to car-based fuel-efficient vehicles from global platforms.
Ford received $5.9 billion in DOE loans in June 2009 and has drawn down $5.4 billion to date. Louisville is one of 11 facilities to benefit from the loans designed to promote the manufacture of vehicles with advanced technology.
General Motors and Chrysler withdrew their applications after approval had dragged on for years.
Bob Shanks, Ford's chief financial officer, said starting in September Ford must start paying back the DOE loans in fixed increments.
"They have been very helpful for us," Shanks said of the loans. "They have supported a massive transformation in North America to introduce products with fuel efficiency."
"We've been investing extraordinarily heavily," Shanks said. "We've been basically building these facilities from the ground up."
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