Cleveland, Ohio – Ford Motor Co.’s 3,000 workers at the Michigan Assembly Plant near Detroit celebrated the production launch Monday of a vehicle that has been off the U.S. market for nearly decade.
In many ways, the changeover is emblematic to the state of the auto industry throughout the past five years. A compact car that once sounded like the future of Ford, the outgoing Focus, is going away in favor of a former top seller, the Ranger small pickup.
Ranger production ended during the aftermath of the Great Recession, a time when inexpensive, fuel-efficient cars were rising in popularity. In hindsight, that brief period when auto companies could affordably run three shifts of compact car production was an aberration. As fuel prices stayed low and the memories of the recession faded, crossovers and trucks surged back into popularity.
“Ford truck fans demanded a midsize pickup that’s ‘Built Ford Tough,’ and we’re delivering with our all-new Ranger that’s specially designed and engineered for American truck customers,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of global operations. “At the same time, we’re revitalizing our Michigan Assembly Plant and securing good-paying jobs for our hourly employees here in the U.S.”
Ford has invested $850 million to build exciting new vehicles at Michigan Assembly Plant, including the Ranger for North America and the highly anticipated new Ford Bronco, scheduled to begin production in 2020.
Focus production ended early this year to prepare the plant for a rapid retooling. In 2016, when small car sales were falling yet still decent, Ford announced plans to build a new, $1.6 billion plant in Mexico to keep the Focus in production while it retooled Michigan Assembly for pickups and SUVs.
A year later, the company scrapped those plans, saying sales had fallen so sharply that Ford’s existing plant in Mexico could handle both the Focus and mid-sized Fusion, eliminating the need for a second plant. A few months later, and that plan was dead with Ford planning to cut Fusion production altogether and import a small number of Focus vehicles from China.
Sales continued to fall, and earlier this year, the automaker announced plans to nearly exit the car business entirely by 2020, leaving only the Mustang and a crossover version of the Focus as its only car-like vehicles. The rest of the lineup will be crossovers, trucks, vans, and SUVs.
For Michigan Assembly, a sprawling 369-acre plant, which opened in 1957 building station wagons, the start of Ranger production marks a new era.
Beginning in 1966, the plant began a 30-year run of building Bronco, one of the original sport utility vehicles that gained popularity in post-War America. Michigan Assembly gained acclaim as being among the most important and profitable factories in the world when it made Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators from 1996 to 2008.
“We have been waiting for this day for a long time,” said Michigan Assembly Plant Manager Erik Williams. “The Ranger is back home in the U.S., and our employees at Michigan Assembly Plant are thrilled to be able to build it for our customers.”
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.