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2017 Ford Taurus

The 2017 Ford Taurus.

It's the end of an era.

Ford plans to cease production of the Ford Taurus, which auto workers have made at the Chicago Assembly Plant in Hegewisch just across the state line since 1986, as it focuses more on higher-priced, higher-margin pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.

Ford spokeswoman Christin Baker said the discontinuation of the Taurus will not result in any job losses at the Chicago Assembly Plant, which employs 4,020 workers, or at the Chicago Stamping Plant in Chicago Heights, which employs 1,270.

"We are investing heavily in Chicago Assembly Plant — for the next-generation Explorer as well as an all-new Lincoln Aviator," Baker said.

Production of the Taurus at the sprawling 2.8 million-square-foot auto factory at 12600 S. Torrence Ave. on the far South Side will cease by March 2019, Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker said.

"It will be replaced by the Lincoln Aviator," she said. "We will also be building an all-new Explorer at Chicago Assembly. We expect demand for these new vehicles to support the same number of employees as we have today."

Ford's massive automotive plant on the banks of the Calumet River, one of the bi-state Calumet Region's largest employers since it opened in 1924, also produces the Police Interceptor Utility and the Police Interceptor Sedan, which are the top-selling police vehicles in the United States but are produced at a far lower volume than mass-market vehicles.

Since it's no longer making the Taurus, the Chicago Assembly Plant also will stop producing the Police Interceptor Sedan, which is a souped-up version of the Taurus that's specially equipped for police use. The plant will continue to make the Police Interceptor Utility, which accounts for 80 percent of the police market, said Joseph Hinrichs, Ford's executive vice president and president of the Americas.

It will be the first time the Chicago Assembly Plant has not produced any cars since World War II.

Hinricks said Ford will "invest heavily" in the plant so it can make the next-generation Explorer and the Aviator SUV, but declined to go into details.

"We will modernize the whole facility significantly," he said. "We will modernize and retool."

Consumers in North America have been shifting more to SUVs and larger vehicles over the last four years, and Ford is adapting to market demand, he said.

"There are a number of factors," he said. "SUVs don't have the fuel economy penalty they once did. They like the versatility of SUVs and all kinds of other attributes. A lot has changed consumer preferences over the last 10 years." 

Ford announced Wednesday it was phasing out the Taurus, the Fusion and the Fiesta in North America, leaving only the Mustang and Focus Active in its shrunken fleet of cars. The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker, which increased its first-quarter profit by 9 percent to $1.7 billion, plans to focus on the more profitable SUVs and trucks, like the best-selling F-150 and the locally made Explorer.

The Ford Taurus sedan, which was memorably featured in the movie "Robocop," was the best-selling car in America during the early 1990s, but sales have been declining for years as consumers have either switched to larger vehicles or Japanese-made sedans like the Toyota Camry or Honda Civic. The more fuel-efficient Camry took its crown as the top-selling car in the United States in 1997.

The Taurus has been made at the Chicago Assembly Plant for the last three decades, except a brief period when it was discontinued from 2004 to 2008.

Last year, Taurus sales declined by 4 percent to 33,242 units. The four-door sedan accounted for only a fraction of the vehicles produced at the Chicago Assembly Plant, which cranked out 238,056 Ford Explorers last year.

The Chicago Assembly Plant made just 2,569 Tauruses last month, down 36.3 percent from the same time last year.

Previously, the Chicago Assembly Plant made the Lincoln MKS until it was phased out and replaced with the Lincoln Continental in 2016.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.