Aluminum F-150 Production Begins at Ford Plant

(Detroit Free Press/MCT) -

For Bill Ford, Tuesday’s event to mark the start of production of the all-new 2015 F-150 at the Ford Rouge Center in Dearborn, Mich., is personal.

“It is a great day for me and the family. The Rouge has always meant something to me personally,” said the executive chairman of the automaker that bears his family name. “The Rouge is the heart and soul of how I feel about this company.”

Bill Ford joined CEO Mark Fields, UAW Ford division president Jimmy Settles and the full workforce at the Dearborn Truck Plant, which shut down the line Tuesday morning to watch the first 2015 F-150 come off the assembly line. The truck goes on sale in the U.S. next month.

“Congratulations on a historic Job 1 ceremony,” Fields said.

For almost seven decades, the F-150 has been made of steel. This latest generation switched to an aluminum body to shave 700 pounds of weight and improve fuel economy. But it meant gutting the body shop and installing 500 new robots and manufacturing processes to use adhesives to assemble the new truck body.

Ford invested $359 million to transform Dearborn Truck, and another $484 million at the adjacent Diversified and Stamping facilities. Another $1.1 billion is being spent at the Kansas City, Mo., plant that also makes the F-150 as well as Transit.

Ford added 850 workers at the Dearborn Truck, Diversified and Stamping facilities. These new workers join the more than 4,000 existing employees.

“I am so proud of our heritage at Ford, but especially here at the Rouge,” a beaming Bill Ford said. “But as Henry Ford once said, ‘The only history worth (anything) is the history that we make today. And we are here today to make history.’ ”

“On this site 100 years ago, my great-grandfather created the industrial icon of the 20th century. The Rouge complex was a marvel of its age.”

“But a decade ago, some at Ford wanted to close the Rouge,” he said, vividly recalling efforts to stop that from happening.

“Rather than close it, I wanted (to) reinvent the Rouge as a new kind of factory,” he said, despite the huge investment involved with no guarantee it would be worth it.

The plant that built the first Ford Mustangs in the 1960s was rebuilt, and in 2004 it was retooled to make Ford’s other iconic vehicle: the F-150 pickup.

As an environmentalist, Bill Ford also celebrates that the plant is making an aluminum truck because the metal is 100 percent recyclable.

The UAW’s Settles called the Dearborn plant “the house that Bill Ford built.”

There is risk in tampering with the country’s best-selling truck. But Bill Ford said it is a risk worth taking and even with current low gas prices, he said fuel economy is still important to buyers.

The new truck will be available in 90 markets in 2015.

How crucial is the profitable truck to Fields? Important with a capital “i,” he told reporters after the event.

And with the new processes to build it, “we are transforming the future of manufacturing,” Fields said.

As for Bill?

“I will order one.”