Ford Sets $600-Million Update for Louisville SUV Assembly Plant

Reprogrammable tooling will allow plant to produce up to six models simultaneously

Ford Motor Co. has outlined a $600-million plan to modernize its SUV assembly plant in Louisville, Ky., to create what it calls a “modern, flexible facility.” The project is due to begin this month, according to Ford’s statement, and involves installing new tooling, body shop equipment, and other improvements.

The automaker emphasized that the remodeled plant will reopen late in 2011, with two shifts of approximately 2,900 employees. That would indicate an increase of 1,800 positions Ford said will be filled by transferring employees from other plants, re-activating workers on indefinite layoff, and new hires.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky and the city of Louisville have committed up to $240 million in tax incentives over 10 years for the project and for an earlier, $200-million update at the Kentucky Truck Plant to accommodate Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator production.

The Louisville Assembly Plant produced the Ford Explorer SUV since 1989, but it reassigned the 2011 Explorer to the Chicago Assembly Plant. Louisville will reopen in late 2011 and produce a new version of the Ford Escape. It will be the third North American assembly plant that Ford has retooled to produce new, fuel-efficient models from its global platforms.

The remodeling project will emphasize reprogrammable tooling capability in the plant’s final assembly area and body shop, so that Ford will be capable of manufacturing up to six different vehicle models simultaneously, with no downtime for tooling changeover.

"Manufacturing flexibility is a key to competitiveness, and we are continually exploring ways to raise the bar in this critical area of the business," stated Jim Tetreault, Ford's vice president of North America Manufacturing. "While we are launching Louisville Assembly Plant with one key product – the next-generation Ford Escape – we are building in the flexibility to produce other vehicles at the plant in the future, depending upon volume requirements, customer preferences and other factors that affect vehicle demand."

The new Escape will debut at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show in January.

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