When Joe Hinrichs, Ford president, The Americas, stepped to the podium March 13 at the Kansas City Assembly Plant’s finishing shop, he looked behind him at the newly made 2015 Ford F-150 rolling by and made an observation.
“As you see,” he said, “the line doesn’t stop.”
And then it stopped – just for a minute. He laughed about it. Hinrichs, Kansas City Assembly workers, management and city officials know that might be one of the few times the assembly line pumping out new F-150s comes to a halt for a while.
“In January, the Ford F series had its strongest sales month since 2004, which was the company’s best sales year ever for the F-150,” Hinrichs said. “In February, sales increased 7 percent in total. These numbers make Ford F-150 the fastest-selling vehicle in the market today. These vehicles stay on the lot an average of 18 days.”
Hinrichs spoke before an excited Kansas City Assembly Plant where Ford officials and politicians, including Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, gathered for the first rollout of the 2015 F-150 produced at the plant.
Near the end of the speeches, a bright blue ceremonial F-150 appeared. For Kansas City, that truck represented much more than the production of the most popular truck sold in the United States. It meant a stunning rebirth for a plant that was on shaky grounds just a few years ago.
When hard times hit the automotive industry in 2006-09, the Kansas City Assembly Plant work force decreased.
“Claycomo (plant) was on life support with it dwindling down to a couple of thousand workers, but none of us gave up,” Nixon said. “We fought back. I knew we would bounce back.”
Indeed. The combination of producing the 2015 F-150 and the new Ford Transit van has helped employment at the Kansas City Assembly Plant climb.
Because of the high demand for the F-150, the plant now operates three shifts.
“Today, this facility, one of the most advanced in the entire world, has one of the largest hourly work forces of any plant in the Ford Motor Company global network with more than 7,000 employees,” Hinrichs said.
Only Kansas City and the Dearborn Plant in Michigan make the F-150. The Dearborn plant was the first to overhaul its equipment, which is necessary to make the new truck that features a cab and box fabricated from high-strength, military grade aluminum alloys.
The body shop at the Kansas City Assembly Plant went through its transformation late last year. More than 500 high-tech robots were installed. The robots conduct state-of-the-art joining technology, using riveting and structural adhesives, resulting in a tougher, more durable truck. It also gives a quieter, nearly spark-free manufacturing environment.
“What makes this different is it is a completely different technology,” said Jef Magee, maintenance and engineer manager at the body shop. “Just the technology to produce this vehicle gives this particular plant a lot of stability going into the future. We are one of the first plants to employ this technology. People here are the only people who can do it.
“It was the correct move to make for the future of manufacturing. It will employ a skill set here for people who maintain the equipment, which will make them very viable going into the future because this will be the new technology.”
Magee, who has been working for Ford for 29 years, fully understands the long-lasting impact this will make in the Kansas City area. And so does Michael Shearer, who has worked at Ford for 26 years. Shearer is the Transit launch lead.
“There are workers who now have their sons and daughters working here,” Shearer said. “My son works here.”
Those are the things that make the Kansas City Assembly Plant a special workplace, said plant manager Dan Jowiski, who is in his third year in Claycomo.
In Jowiski’s 31 years with Ford, he has worked in eight plants. Before Kansas City, he worked in Chicago.
“This facility has been building F series vehicles since it began in the 1950s,” Jowiski said of the Kansas City Assembly Plant. “We have a history, a legacy and we’ve got a future. We take that responsibility very seriously. We have a responsibility for Ford’s most precious commodity, the F-150. It really is an icon.”
Ford is banking on the Kansas City Assembly Plant to deliver in a big way.
“Right here in Kansas City, we have invested $1.1 billion,” Hinrichs said. “We opened a new stamping facility, we launched a new Transit van (and) added just recently a second crew for the Transit.”
Nixon provided several anecdotes from Kansas City residents on what the Kansas City Assembly Plant means to them. Nixon talked about one employee who walked 14 miles and camped out for 18 hours just to get a chance to work at this plant.
Another story Nixon told was of a father of three who once worked residential construction and was living paycheck to paycheck. Because of the Kansas City Assembly Plant, that father is now able to buy a house, a car and a save a little, too.
“It is a very exciting time,” Shearer said. “It is good for the community. It added a number of additional jobs. It is a win-win from my point of view.”
Hinrichs definitely added to the enthusiasm with his words on March 13.
“There is no more exciting place to be right now than right here in Kansas City, and we are about to turn it up even more,” Hinrichs said.