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Ford to invest $1 billion in Chicago-area auto plants, add 500 jobs

Chicago Tribune

Thursday, February 7, 2019  |  Article  |  Bob Goetz

Employment, Jobs (40)

Ford Motor Company said Thursday that it will invest $1 billion in its Chicago-area manufacturing operations to expand production of its Ford Explorer and Lincoln Aviator sport utility vehicles.


The announcement, made at the Chicago Auto Show, will add 500 jobs to two manufacturing facilities, the assembly plant and stamping plant, said Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of global operations. The expansion will bring the total number of workers at its Chicago-area facilities to 5,800.


The overhaul of the plant is expected to begin in March and be completed in the spring.


Included will be a new body shop and paint shop at Chicago Assembly, and new stamping lines that will make the 2020 Ford Explorer, Police Interceptor Utility and Lincoln Aviator.


The announcement comes as Ford continues a major restructuring put in place by CEO Jim Hackett, who was named to the position following the abrupt dismissal of Mark Fields in 2017.


In recent months, Ford has announced steep job cuts to its salaried workforce and an overhaul of its European operations as it embarks on a significant shift in its product lineup that includes the discontinuation of slower-selling sedans like the Fusion in favor of trucks and SUVs.


All the changes have been accompanied by a steep recent decline in earnings, though workers at the two Chicago-area plants recently learned they would be receiving profit-sharing checks of $7,500 for


Ford’s Chicago operations, an assembly plant at 12600 S. Torrence Ave. in Chicago and a stamping plant in Chicago Heights,stand to benefit from the emphasis on larger vehicles.


The production of the Explorer ST, the Police Interceptor and the Aviator will add to Ford’s position as the top producer of vehicles in the U.S., with nearly 2.4 million built in 2018, the company said.


“This investment will further strengthen Ford’s SUV market leadership,” Hinrichs said.


Ford also announced that it would spend $40 million to improve working conditions, including new team break areas on the plant floor, increased security, better lighting and a renovated cafeteria. In 2017, working conditions at the plants fell under scrutiny when The New York Times highlighted a history of sexual and racial harassment that had continued for decades at the two plants.


The Chicago Assembly Plant— which began making the Model T in 1924 — represents one of the few large assembly operations remaining for Ford in a large American city. Many have closed as Ford has spread its manufacturing operations around the world.


But President Donald Trump has applied enormous pressure on domestic automakers to keep their plants, and the jobs that go with them, in the U.S. In 2017, in an abrupt reversal, Ford said it would cancel plans for a $1.6 billion plant to make small cars in Mexico, instead making them in the U.S.


“It’s a real vote of confidence in this city,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at the auto show, adding that the city had ordered 200 new police cruisers from Ford.