Ford Rouge complex’s next chapter: a hybrid F-150

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Ford Motor Co. marked 100 years of manufacturing at its iconic Rouge complex here with a nod to the future: the plant will be the birthplace of the first-ever F-150 Hybrid.

Due in 2020 — the same year Ford plans to churn out all-new Bronco SUVs at its Wayne Assembly Plant — the truck will be the first hybrid pickup to carry the Blue Oval logo. It’s another first for a plant with a very long history of them.

“We’re on the forefront of manufacturing for Ford Motor Company,” said Don Pijor, F-150 launch manager at the Dearborn Truck Plant inside the Rouge. “It’s kind of neat to set the standard for the company.”

The 7,000 employees at the Ford River Rouge Complex say the world revolves around this plant and the F-150s that roll off the line here every 53 seconds, every day, making it the oldest continuously operating auto plant in the nation. A cornerstone of the “Arsenal of Democracy” that helped win World War II, the facility has marked history with more than just pickups in its 100 years of operation, a milestone Ford celebrated Thursday.

The hybrid truck won’t replace the gas-powered trucks produced at the plant. It will be built alongside them, a metaphor for the changing expectations reshaping the decison making of automakers.

In the parking lot outside the assembly plant, employees gathered to hear from United Auto Workers officials, Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr., and President of Global Operations Joe Hinrichs as they highlighted the history of the plant, and stressed the importance of the 7,000 people in five buildings that make up nearly 8 million square feet of the complex.

It was no secret to anyone present that the F-150 is the biggest profit pillar for a company undergoing a fundamental restructuring as CEO Jim Hackett tries to prepare the automaker for changes brought on by autonomous vehicles and electrified powertrains.

“We build F-150s so we can build autonomous vehicles,” Pijor said.

And Ford’s plan for the future, which right now involves trimming $25.5 billion in operational costs and spending $11 billion to realign its global business, is trickling down to the factory floor in the form of new product, according to Bill Ford and Hinrichs.

“Our workers want us to win,” Bill Ford said. “If I learned anything during the dark days ‘07, ‘08, ‘09, it’s that the employees of Ford Motor Company, especially hourly workers, they really want us to win. We’re working with them to make this the best plant possible.”

The automaker is in flux, but company officials warned against equating the changes — and struggles in the stock market — to the crisis Ford faced nearly a decade ago. The company is profitable in North America. It has billions in liquid assets, just in case another recession hits. And it’s making changes to the business under Hackett at a time of strength.

Ford also is preparing to enter a new product gauntlet in 2019, which will bring an all-new Ranger, all-new Explorer and all-new Lincoln Aviator, among other products. That launch period will last through at least 2021, when the company also debuts its first-ever autonomous vehicle.

And the Rouge will keep on making the company’s most-profitable, most-popular vehicle ever.

“Our workers are all about making a great product ... and of course, job security,” Hinrichs said. “We’re investing in product. It’s very consistent with where their priorities are.”

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau