Ford boosting production targets for full-size SUVs by about 25%; increasing line speed at Kentucky Truck Plant
Ford is increasing production of two popular full-size SUVs to meet increasing retail demand for both models. The company is increasing line speed at its Kentucky Truck Plant to build more Lincoln Navigator and Ford Expedition SUVs, boosting production targets approximately 25% since last fall when the SUVs hit the market.
A new $25-million investment for additional manufacturing enhancements brings Ford’s total investment at Kentucky Truck Plant to $925 million and allows the company to increase manufacturing line speed. This investment and advanced manufacturing upgrades are examples of the company’s quest to improve its operational fitness. Upgrades include 400 new robots, a new 3D printer that enables workers to make parts and tools more quickly and cheaper as well as enhanced data analytics to keep the assembly line moving as efficiently as possible.
|2018 Lincoln Navigator unveiled at New York Auto Show in 2017. Click to enlarge.|
The 2018 Navigator is powered by a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 engine with 450 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque, delivered through a 10-speed transmission. It features a high-strength aluminum-alloy body. The 2018 Navigator 4x2 delivers combined EPA-rated fuel economy of 19 mpg (12.37 L/100 km).
The new Ford Expedition is equipped with a 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine and 10-speed automatic transmission that produce up to 400 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque. The full-size SUV features a high-strength, aluminum-alloy body and redesigned high-strength steel frame. The Expedition 4x2 delivers combined EPA-rated fuel economy of 20 mpg (11.75 l/100 km)—17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway—outperforming the Chevy Tahoe 5.3L 4x2 by 1 mpg on each cycle.
In January 2018, overall Ford Motor Company U.S. sales totaled more than 161,000 vehicles—a 6.6% drop. However, retail sales for the Expedition were up 56.8% and fleet sales were down 66.3% for a total 3,439 units—down 15.4% year-on-year. Lincoln Navigator posted a 131.7% retail gain last month, with overall sales—and a total increase of 97.5%—of 1,288 SUVs. This marks the best retail sales start for Navigator in a decade.
Ford said that the new Navigator SUVs are spending an average of just seven days at the dealership before they are sold. Customers are trading in Land Rover and Mercedes vehicles in exchange for a Navigator, according to Ford, and nearly 85% of all Navigator buyers are choosing high-end Black Label and Reserve models. Expeditions are on the lot for 11 days.
Customer demand for the highly-equipped Navigator Black Label and Reserve series contributed to an average transaction price increase of more than $21,000 in January versus a year ago. Navigator retail sales were up triple digits in every region of the country last month. Navigator sales more than doubled last month, due to growth in key markets including Florida, Texas and California, a competitive conquest rate of 40% and new interest from younger consumers.
Expedition also is off to a strong start, with the top-of-the-line Platinum trim models representing 29% of sales—pushing transaction price increases up $7,800 in January. Expedition retail sales were up nearly 57% last month and vehicles are spending just seven days on dealer lots.
Kentucky Truck Plant assembly line workers are working overtime and voluntary weekend shifts.
Advanced manufacturing. More than 400 new robots—including collaborative robots—were added to the facility during last year’s transformation, mainly in the body shop. The robots enable the plant to increase the line speed while keeping employees safe from repetitive-motion injuries. The plant also added a robot lab, where employees can test out software tweaks or trouble shoot issues away from the factory floor.
Data analytics have helped the plant identify and address thousands of concerns in near-real time. A data analytics hub includes seven big-screen TVs that provide minute-by-minute updates, letting plant officials know whether production is meeting hourly targets or whether there is a concern on the line that should be immediately addressed.
Data updates also allow workers to be proactive, alerting them to instances of pending parts shortages so they can arrange for a new batch to be delivered to a work station before parts completely run out. An enormous spare parts “vending machine” allows workers to more quickly locate a necessary part while automatically keeping inventory at optimal levels.
The plant recently installed a 3D printer onsite to print individual parts for tools necessary to keep the plant running. Manufacturing a prototype part using traditional methods can take eight to 16 weeks at a cost of more than $250,000 in tooling alone. Producing the same part using 3D printing can take days—and sometimes just hours—and can be done for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Kentucky Truck Plant opened in 1969. It currently employs more than 8,400 people, including approximately 8,100 hourly employees. The plant builds the Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator and Ford Super Duty.