DETROIT – The F-150 pickup is so important to Ford that the automaker devised an international airlift using a rare Russian cargo plane to help restart production on Friday.
“I wouldn’t quite call it mission impossible, but it was a race against the clock to get the bestselling vehicle in America up and running,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s executive vice president of product development and purchasing. “It truly was a heroic effort by the team.”
Truck production, shut down since May 9, will resume at the Dearborn, Mich., Truck Plant on Friday, while manufacturing of the F-150 at the Kansas City Assembly Plant and Super Duty at the Kentucky Truck Plant are targeted to restart by Monday, Ford executives announced Wednesday.
“We expect to have everybody back by Monday, if all goes as planned,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford president, global operations, said Wednesday afternoon.
A massive fire May 2 at Meridian Magnesium Products of America in Eaton Rapids, Mich., dramatically disrupted the North American auto industry by creating a parts shortage for Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Mercedes. It triggered unplanned layoffs throughout the U.S.
UAW members in Michigan and Missouri received letters last week saying to expect a two-week shutdown.
Ford, Meridian’s biggest client, sent a team to the fire site just south of Lansing as the disaster still smoldered. The automaker coordinated efforts in three countries involving various customs officials to restart truck production of its profit-driving F-series in Michigan, Kentucky and Missouri.
Ford removed 19 tools, called dies, from Meridian’s badly damaged facility.
In less than two workweeks, top executives described insane goals accomplished across International Time Zones.
In one case, Ford moved an 87,000-pound tool from Eaton Rapids to Nottingham, England, using an Antonov An124 Russian plane in 30 hours door to door. The Antonov is one of the largest cargo planes in the world that’s used to transport such items as trains and yachts more than 82 feet long.
Ford got the import license for the die a mere two hours before the plane touched down.
Meanwhile, 7,600 Ford workers waited to hear when they could get back to work.
Ryan Dolsen, 29, of Louisville does final product inspection at the Kentucky Truck Plant for Super Duty trucks, Expeditions and Navigators. He has wondered when Super Duty would be back in action, and overall Ford schedules back to normal.
“This is awesome,” he said as he started his 6 p.m. shift Wednesday. “It’s good to see Ford step up and get things done and handled. Everybody is excited to get back to work.”
Parts produced at Nottingham are being shipped daily on a Boeing 747 jet until production in Eaton Rapids returns to normal, Ford said.
Ford’s F Series is crucial to the company’s finances, particularly as it moves away from sedan production. In 2017, Ford built 1,052,658 F-series trucks, which averages 3,000 to 4,000 a day when accounting for periodic plant shutdowns. The vehicles sold for an average of $46,500. The F-series truck generated more than $40 billion in revenue for Ford.
A UAW worker at Ford’s Livonia Transmission Plant said earlier Wednesday that employees, whose shifts were reduced as part of the collateral damage to the parts supply chain, have been told that all shifts will return to work starting Monday.
Meanwhile, Meridian officials say they worked as quickly as possible to find a way to build the specialized parts whose production was disrupted by the fire.
“We’re firing up our die cast machines,” Benjamin Wu, chief legal officer and public affairs director for Meridian Magnesium Products of America, said.
About one-third of the parts built by Meridian are sold to Ford, company officials confirmed. “Progress is moving forward quickly at the plant,” Eaton Rapids City Manager Aaron Desentz said.
Up to 250 people in the small town were out of work because of the fire.
In the short term, the high-pressure die casting company, which makes parts out of molten magnesium, had coordinated tool and die efforts with its affiliate companies, including the Meridian Lightweight Technologies plant in Strathroy, Ontario.
The plant fire also affected production at the Fiat Chrysler plant in Windsor, Ontario, which produces the Chrysler Pacifica minivan and the Dodge Grand Caravan.
FCA spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said the company “continues to balance production” at the Windsor Assembly Plant and has had no production disruptions at any of its other facilities to date.
GM has not restarted production of its full-size vans in Wentzville, Mo., since production was halted a week ago, said GM spokeswoman Kim Carpenter. The Wentzville plant is the only production plant that builds the GMC Savana and the Chevrolet Express. Workers have not seen layoffs there because they’re producing midsize trucks.
Mercedes announced Friday the shutdown of its SUV production for an indefinite period of time. No new information was available Wednesday.