November 8, 2012
DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. has added about 5,200 jobs this year in its U.S. factories, and its North American plants are operating at 114 percent of capacity, the highest in more than three decades.
"Our manufacturing costs have gone down this year," Jim Tetreault, Ford's vice president of North American manufacturing, told reporters today at an event held at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich.
"Two things are driving that, capacity utilization and entry-level workers. No question, those two things have lowered our costs."
Ford's contract with the UAW allows the automaker to pay new hires about $16 an hour, less than 60 percent of what veteran workers receive. Ford has added about 4,800 of those entry-level workers to its payroll this year, said Todd Nissen, a company spokesman.
The remainder of the new jobs went to workers transferring from other Ford factories or coming out of the "jobs bank" of employees who didn't have job assignments. Ford's jobs bank is now empty, Tetreault said.
Ford's is running its factories at their highest level of utilization in Tetreault's career at the automaker, which spans more than 30 years, he said. Ford has added third shifts of workers at five North American assembly plants.
Ford is adding a shift of 1,200 workers at its Flat Rock, Mich., factory next year. Asked if Ford will need more workers and capacity as U.S. auto sales grow, Tetreault said: "Stay tuned."
During today's event at the Michigan Assembly Plant, Ford marked the production launch of its latest plug-in hybrid at a former SUV factory that now serves as a model for the automaker's global manufacturing strategy.
With production of the C-Max Energi, the plant is now the only factory in the world to build gas-powered, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars all on the same production line, according to the company.
"In the future, globally, we'll have plants that produce multiple platforms, multiple powertrain choices and multiple body styles," Tetreault said.
Michigan Assembly is the latest illustration of Ford's strategy to retool plants and train workers to build a wider range of models. The move lowers Ford's production costs, while allowing it to adapt more quickly to changes in consumer demand.
The flexibility at Michigan Assembly, which can build five body styles on two platforms, is key as Ford offers electric and hybrid cars whose sales have been unpredictable.
"We didn't want to get trapped in having dedicated lines for electrified vehicles and dedicating all that capital to a single line of vehicles," Tetreault said.
Ford announced in May 2009 that it was spending $550 million to overhaul the 55-year-old plant, which made the Expedition and Lincoln Navigator full-size SUVs. Now, Ford makes the C-Max hybrid and plug-in as well as electric and gas-powered versions of the Ford Focus compact car.
This includes a sport version of the Focus that gets 252 horsepower, which Tetreault calls the "wild Focus."