Ford to invest $1.3B, add 2,000 jobs at Kentucky plant

DETROIT — Ford will spend $1.3 billion and add 2,000 jobs at its truck plant in Louisville, Ky., where it will make its next-generation Super Duty pickup.

The size of the investment reflects the automaker’s decision to build future generations of vehicles, including some of its largest, with aluminum bodies instead of steel in a bid to shed weight and improve fuel economy.

The $1.3 billion was promised as part of a 2011 labor agreement. The recently negotiated 2015 contract between Ford and the United Auto Workers union calls for another $600 million investment, to go toward the next-generation Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator, which are also made at the Louisville plant and are expected to get aluminum bodies.

It was expected Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas, would announce the news at an event Tuesday morning at the plant, which employs almost 4,400 people.

Ford is hiring now and expects to have all the positions filled by the second quarter of 2016. Applicants must apply in person at the Kentucky Career Center in downtown Louisville.

The 2,000 positions are part of the 8,500 jobs announced as part of the new, four-year Ford-UAW contract that was ratified Nov. 20.

The all-new 2017 F-Series Super Duty pickup was unveiled in September at the State Fair of Texas and, like the smaller F-150, now features an aluminum body. It is set to launch in fall 2016 with a choice of diesel and gasoline engines.

Ford took a risk when it converted the F-150 to aluminum. It required taking two assembly plants down for months, which dented sales in the final quarter of 2014 and well into this year as inventories of the new model slowly built up.

Converting the Super Duty lineup will not require downtime beyond next year’s normal summer shutdown at the Kentucky plant, according to spokesman Mike Levine. That is because Ford will have completed its new body shop by the first quarter of 2017 to allow assembly of the next-generation model to start while the outgoing model is being phased out.

In addition to the new body shop, the plant is receiving other upgrades and new tooling. The automaker has also filed zoning requests to expand the manufacturing base of the plant that produces F-250, F-350, F-450 and F-550 Super Duty pickups and chassis cabs, as well as the Expedition and Navigator.

With the new Super Duty, “We expect to continue growing our truck leadership,” Hinrichs said in a statement in advance of the event.

The $1.3 billion investment follows the $80 million invested in 2014 to meet growing customer demand for the Super Duty trucks and $129 million to support Lincoln MKC production at a nearby assembly plant in Louisville.

“Adding new jobs and more investment at Kentucky Truck Plant not only secures a solid foundation for our UAW members, but also strengthens the communities in which they live, work and play,” said Jimmy Settles, the UAW’s Ford department vice president, referring to the plant that will receive the 2,000 jobs.

Settles led Ford negotiations for the new UAW contract, which was passed by 51 percent of workers. The 9,000 members of Local 862 at both Louisville assembly plants voted 65 percent against the contract.

Ford began manufacturing vehicles in Kentucky in 1913 with 11 employees. The truck plant opened in 1969.

“This tremendous investment and commitment to new job creation reconfirms the strength of a more than century-long relationship between Kentucky and Ford Motor Company,” said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. “We wholeheartedly appreciate Ford’s continued confidence in the commonwealth’s workforce and pro-business environment, and we look forward to expanding our relationship in the future.”

There are five models in the Super Duty lineup: the XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum.

Ford has 43 percent of the heavy-duty truck segment and 64 percent of the chassis cab market. And, like the F-150, these trucks haul in big profits for the automaker.

Ford hiring in Kentucky

Ford is adding 2,000 jobs at the Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, Ky. The company is hiring now and expects to have all the positions filled by the second quarter of 2016. Applicants must apply in person at the Kentucky Career Center in downtown Louisville.

(c)2015 Detroit Free Press

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