Chicago Auto Show: new vehicle reveals and Ford plans a $1 billion factory expansion in Illinois
Ford President of Global Operations Joe Hinrichs announces a $1 billion investment in the automaker's Chicago campus.
Photo by Robert Schoenberger

Chicago Auto Show: new vehicle reveals and Ford plans a $1 billion factory expansion in Illinois

Upgrades to the Chicago Assembly Plant and Chicago Stamping Plant support more versions and higher vehicles of the Explorer SUV family.

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February 8, 2019

Chicago, Illinois – Ford plans to invest $1 billion in its Chicago operations to boost production of the Explorer, Police Interceptor version of the car, Explorer hybrid, and the Lincoln Aviator variant of the sport utility vehicle (SUV).

“We believe in American manufacturing and good-paying middle class jobs,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s global operations president from the company’s booth at the Chicago Auto Show.

The investments will be split between the assembly plant and stamping plant on Chicago’s south side, and company spokesman Mike Levine said the growing variety of the Explorer platform – new models and model variants – demanded new equipment and updated systems.

“We’re adding a whole new vehicle (Aviator), and all of these variants, so that means more stamping, new tooling, new equipment, more people, and a big investment,” Levine said.

The automaker plans to add 500 new jobs to the facility to boost output of the fast-selling vehicle. As with several major automakers, Ford is pulling back investment on traditional cars and focusing more attention on higher-profit, better selling trucks, crossovers, and SUVs. Because the automaker makes most of those vehicles in the U.S., getting the bulk of its cars from Mexico, it has drawn less criticism than General Motors, a company in the process of closing four U.S. plants and one in Canada to pursue the same strategy.

That preference for bigger vehicles was on clear display at the show. Vehicle debuts Thursday included:

  • Toyota Tacoma – Not a complete redesign of the mid-sized pickup, but the cosmetic update also includes more in-cabin technology and upgraded infotainment systems
  • 2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road – A specialty version of the popular SUV, designed for trail blazing
  • 2020 Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro – An extra-powerful, more off-road capable version of Toyota’s largest SUV
  • 2019 Ram 5500 Limited – Limited refers to a premium interior trim package with extra-comfy leather seats, but it could also refer to the ridiculously tiny market segment the automaker is targeting. The Ram 5500 is a chassis-cab commercial truck, more commonly seen in municipal fleets with cranes attached to trim power lines. Why offer an expensive, premium interior on a giant tool? Possibly for those Kentucky Derby horse breeders who drive their own vehicles to races instead of flying their private jets?
  • 2019 Ram 3500, 4500, 5500 – Ram showed off the 2500 and 3500 pickups at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last month, but it saved the chassis cab, larger siblings for Chicago
  • 2019 Ram 1500 (new bed) – Ram’s mainstream pickup gains a new tailgate that can swing out like French doors (a 60/40 split), giving owners the ability to load goods in the bed while standing next to the bumper instead of having the reach over the tailgate

A few automakers still plan to offer new cars, and a handful of those also hit the floor in Chicago, including:

  • 2020 Subaru Legacy – More powerful, more fuel efficient, and featuring an updated style, Subaru’s mid-sized sedan has been gaining popularity as other companies drop out of the market
  • 2020 Volkswagen Jetta GLI – A hotrod version of VW’s family sedan, the vehicle gains a turbocharged engine and cosmetic trim changes

About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 18 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.

rschoenberger@gie.net