F-150 pickup sales have been so strong this year that Ford’s Claycomo plant is essentially operating at capacity — something that wasn’t expected to happen until 2014.
Marc LaPine, the company’s F-150 consumer marketing manager, said Friday in Kansas City that the decision made late last year to add a third shift at Claycomo was an “insurance policy” to meet growing demand for the vehicles by next year.
Fortunately, a decision was also made to start the extra shift earlier than it was thought necessary. The plant has about 5,000 employees.
Sales of the long-popular pickup have soared this year with monthly double-digit percentage gains. In August, the F-150 generated its best sales for the month in five years.
“In hindsight, we made a very good decision,” LaPine said. “I’m optimistic about the F-Series and prospects for the Kansas City Assembly Plant,” the Claycomo factory’s official name.
LaPine was in Kansas City to participate in a panel about Missouri’s auto industry as part of the 2013 Governor’s Conference on Economic Development.
The executive also said Ford is investing heavily in the future of the F-150.
He declined to say in an interview when a new model of the vehicle would be offered. But he noted that the Atlas concept pickup, which was shown for the first time at Detroit’s auto show in January, had much of the “design language” that a new F-150 model would have. The pickup had such features as a bolder grille and wheel covers that open and shut to improve aerodynamics.
The Claycomo plant will also start production of the Transit van in the first quarter of 2014, he said. It got the van after the manufacturing of the Ford Escape was moved to another plant.
The conference’s panel on the auto industry had an unofficial theme: Sales are up sharply, and companies are scrambling to meet the demand. Anything that interrupts production, such as a temporary shortage of parts, means lost sales because plants are operating at capacity.
“That’s production you’ll never make up this year,” said Ken Hill, director of economic development strategies for the Center for Automotive Research.
The rebounding sales are offering opportunities for places that have auto plants, such as Missouri and the Kansas City area. General Motors’ assembly plant in Kansas City, Kan., builds the Buick LaCrosse and the Chevrolet Malibu.
Automakers want suppliers to be close to their plants so parts can be quickly delivered. In addition, with the companies maxing out production capacity, they are looking to further expand their existing plants instead of building new ones.
Hill said that’s where Missouri, which also has a GM assembly plant near St. Louis, could be aggressive.
Automotive parts suppliers have 734,000 employees in the U.S., and Missouri accounts for 16,600 of them. That ranks 16th among the states.
Magna International Inc., a major North America supplier, has a plant in Excelsior Springs and is opening another in Liberty to supply Ford’s Claycomo plant. Like most auto plants, Claycomo relies on “just in time” delivery of parts and components instead of maintaining inventories.
Frank Ervin III, a director of government affairs for Magna, said the 95 employees at its Excelsior Springs plant manufacture car seats. Those seats are then delivered and installed at the Claycomo plant about four hours after they are made.
“Wherever we sell it is where we build it,” he said.