This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

September 03, 2008

Ford Invests $75 Million to Convert Truck Plant for Small Cars

Photo of the inside of a manufacturing plant, where a robotic welder is welding a component on the frame of a sport utility vehicle. Another vehicle is also being worked on in the background and complex equipment forms an indistinct, jumbled wall along one side of the vehicles.

The robotic welders and other equipment that are currently building SUVs at Ford's Michigan Truck Plant will soon be replaced with equipment to build compact and subcompact cars.
Credit: Sam VarnHagen/Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company is following through on its plans to produce more small cars with a $75 million investment in the body shop of its Michigan Truck Plant. Starting in November, the company will begin disassembling the tooling and equipment for the Ford Expedition and the Lincoln Navigator, and by mid-2009 that same equipment will start producing those vehicles at Ford's Kentucky Truck Plant. That will pave the way for small-car production to begin at the Michigan Truck Plant in 2010 (it's not clear yet if Ford will also change the name of the facility). Meanwhile, Ford will add a third shift to the nearby Wayne Assembly Plant at the start of 2009, and the 1,000 employees from the Michigan Truck Plant will be put to work at that plant, producing the hot-selling Ford Focus.

The Michigan Truck Plant is one of three Ford plants in North America that will be converted from trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) to instead build small fuel-efficient compact and subcompact cars. A facility in Mexico that currently produces F-Series pickups will begin building the new Fiesta subcompact car in 2010, while the Louisville Assembly Plant in Kentucky, currently the home of the Ford Explorer, will start producing other small vehicles in 2011. See the Ford press release.

Producing more compact and subcompact cars will yield significant gains in fuel economy for Ford, but of course those gains will be gradual and incremental. Looking more towards those technologies that can yield revolutionary gains in fuel economy, the Progressive Automotive X Prize announced on August 27 that it is now accepting official registrations for its competition. To date, more than 120 teams from 17 countries have declared their intent to compete for the $10 million prize, which will be awarded those that can design and build production-capable, market-friendly vehicles able to achieve the equivalent of at least 100 miles per gallon. Teams have until the end of this year to register, and those that qualify will participate in a long-distance stage race that will be judged on speed, distance, urban driving, and overall performance, while also having to meet the fuel economy goal and strict emissions standards. DOE is providing nearly $3.5 million for education and outreach related to the prize. See the press release on the Progressive Automotive X Prize Web site.