CHICAGO | It has been more than three months since Detroit-based media reported Ford Motor Co. was interested in moving the next generation Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS vehicles to a Michigan assembly plant.
But operations are continuing as normal at the Chicago Assembly Plant, which currently produces both vehicles, as current build rates are keeping workers busy at the South Side facility.
The Detroit Free Press reported in October the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker was interested in moving production of the next generation of the two vehicles to the Flat Rock Assembly Plant, which is about 25 miles southwest of downtown Detroit.
When asked about the report, Ford spokeswoman Kristina Adamski declined to comment on the company's future product and sourcing plans.
"We have a strong commitment to the Chicago area, and last year added a third production crew that included the addition of 1,200 new jobs to Chicago Assembly Plant," Adamski said in a statement sent via email. "We have no plans to change our current three-crew schedule, and sales of the plant’s products jumped off to a strong start in January."
The Chicago Assembly Plant, which employs nearly 4,100 people, produces the Ford Explorer, Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS. The plant also manufactures sedan and utility version of the Ford Police Interceptor. Explorer sales in the United States rose for the third consecutive year in 2012 and the Taurus and MKS had year-over-year sales gains of 4 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.
"I think people want to know whether it's true or not," said Carlo Bishop, president of the United Auto Workers Local 551, representing assembly plant workers. "We just don't have any facts on it. No one has called down to the union hall about it."
When a majority of United Auto Workers members ratified a bargaining agreement with Ford in 2011, workers were told production of the Taurus, Explorer and police vehicles would occur in Chicago through the duration of the contract. Ford also said it would invest more than $200 million at the Chicago Assembly Plant and Chicago Stamping Plant in Chicago Heights. The contract ends in 2015.
Tracy Handler, a Northville, Mich.-based principal analyst at IHS Automotive, said sending MKS production to a different facility could free up plant capacity to produce more Explorer vehicles. She said the sport-utility and crossover vehicle segments are performing well in other parts of the world, and the Explorer has been popular in the Middle East.
Lincoln, which was rebranded the Lincoln Motor Co., is in the midst of a campaign to roll out four new vehicles in four years. But David Whiston, an analyst with Morningstar, said the company has a lot of ground to make up in the domestic luxury market to Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. He said Lincoln also has ambitious plans to boost its presence in the Chinese and European markets.
"The expectation is that Lincoln MKS sales have nowhere to go but up," Handler said. "... It may not give them (Flat Rock) a lot of volume, but it gives them (Ford) breathing room in Chicago."
Handler said Ford also is involved in a multi-year process of consolidating its vehicle production platforms to gain global flexibility of where it can make cars, trucks and utility vehicles.
Whiston said by Ford juggling its production capabilities, it would be a boost to the underutilized Flat Rock facility. He said it wouldn't make sense to "put a giant hole" in Chicago and that any corporate maneuver Ford takes likely wouldn't cost jobs at the plant.
"The U.S. auto industry is growing at a terrific rate," Whiston said. "We had double digit increases in sales for last three years. This year could be 7 percent."