DEARBORN, Mich. — The ailing auto industry had some good news Monday as Ford Motor Co. said it will invest about $3 billion to improve plants in Kentucky and Ontario, Canada--and add about 1,000 jobs in the process.
The No. 2 auto maker said it will shift most of its truck-making operations to its Kentucky truck plant in Louisville. Meanwhile, Ford's new minivan will be produced in the company's Oakville assembly plant near Toronto beginning in late 1993.
Ford's announcement was rare good news for the beleaguered American auto industry, which lately has been more accustomed to announcements of profound cutbacks, closings and sales slumps.
Analysts expect Ford to be the first of the Big Three to return to profitability after the company lost $2.3 billion in 1991. Estimates for Ford earnings range from break-even to a $95-million profit for the January-March period, when truck sales rose 16% compared to a year ago.
Ford said its plans include investing more than $900 million to retool and re-equip the Oakville assembly plant for the new minivans. About half that amount already has been spent on a new paint facility.
About 300,000 of the new minivans will be produced annually, bringing Ford's total minivan production to between 500,000 and 600,000 units.
Ford also makes the Aerostar minivan and will begin production today of the new Mercury Villager in a joint venture with Nissan in Avon Lake, Ohio.
The 700 workers for the Oakville minivan plant will come from the adjacent Oakville truck plant, where one shift is being dropped. When a second shift is added to the assembly plant for minivan production, an additional 400 workers will be added.
The remaining Oakville shift of 700 workers could eventually be eliminated, depending on sales of the F-series light-duty trucks made there, said Alexander Trotman, an executive vice president. The F-series was the hottest-selling truck line in America last year with 452,311 units sold.
Ford said it will also spend more than $650 million to expand and equip its truck plant in Louisville for new production of F-series trucks. The plant will continue to be the only source of Ford's medium and heavy-duty trucks.
About 1,300 workers could be added at that plant by 1995, the company said.
Trotman said of the Louisville plant, "They become the center of all the work trucks."
Ford said it also will spend about $1 billion to equip its Windsor Engine Plant 2 in Ontario for production of new truck engines beginning in 1995. About 850 employees, including 700 highly skilled workers on indefinite layoff, will be hired there.