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Ford, union to discuss shift from trucks to cars

Ford Motor Co. plant managers and union representatives from across the country will gather Friday to discuss the company's business.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ford Motor Co. plant managers and union representatives from across the country will gather Friday to discuss the company's business plans, including how it will deal with the U.S. market's rapid shift from trucks to cars.

Some union officials are hoping for news of new products for their plants or the possibility of quickly retooling truck factories so they can make more fuel-efficient cars.

Ford spokeswoman Angie Kozleski said the meeting is intended to bring union leaders up to date on Ford's business challenges. It will be led by Ford's global manufacturing chief Joe Hinrichs, vice president of labor affairs Marty Mulloy and vice president of global quality Bennie Fowler.

Ford announced in May that it will increase production of cars and crossovers through additional shifts and overtime and the realignment of some of its manufacturing capacity. The company also said it plans to accelerate the North American introduction of some of its small cars from Europe and South America, although it didn't reveal which vehicles.

The Detroit News reported Wednesday that Ford has plans to retool entire truck plants to make cars to handle the U.S. market shift.

Ford's President of the Americas Mark Fields said Wednesday he would not talk about future product programs.

"Clearly, as we look at our plans going forward we're going to have to make sure that we have manufacturing facilities that are able to deliver the products that customers want. So as we go along, if we have to retool plants we will," Fields said during conference on plug-in hybrids in Washington.

A person familiar with Ford's production said last week the company plans to build its Transit European commercial van in the U.S. That change could be detailed at the meeting, to be held in downtown Detroit.

At Ford's full-size van factory in Avon Lake, Ohio, near Cleveland, United Auto Workers Local 2000 President Tim Donovan said there have been rumors that the plant will get the Transit.

The factory, which employs 2,300 hourly workers making Econoline vans, was granted a new product during the national UAW contract talks with Ford last year, Donovan said. But Ford has not said what the product will be, he said.

Ford already is trying to figure out how to expand production at its assembly plant in Wayne, Mich., which makes the Focus small car. The company sold more than 32,000 Focuses in May. If demand continues at that level, it would be above the 235,000-vehicle annual capacity of the Wayne factory, the lone plant that makes them.

Ford plans to bring in 250-300 workers to add a shift to the plant's body shop so it operates 24 hours per day, said another person familiar with the company's production plans. Both people requested anonymity because the plans have not been made public.

The plant's assembly lines are operating on two shifts. Kozleski would not say if the company will add a production shift, nor would she comment on the body shop.

"We're examining the business needs and have made no final determination yet," she said.

The workers would come from pools of laid-off workers at other Ford plants, and from the work force in a holding company set up to sell or close several former Visteon Corp. plants.

Hinrichs said in May the company is studying the possibility of moving workers from truck plants to the Focus factory, as well as increasing assembly line speeds and adding shifts in order to raise production.