DETROIT — The all-new 2021 Ford F-150 remains scheduled to start production and go on sale in 2020 despite massive industry disruption caused by the coronavirus, a spokeswoman confirmed to the Free Press Thursday.
“We are on track to deliver our all-new Ford F-150 to customers starting this fall,” said Kelli Felker, Ford global manufacturing and labor communications manager
“The team continues to do an amazing job moving the program forward, even with coronavirus challenges. We look forward to showing the world our all-new pickup soon and start delivering to customers this year.”
Felker declined to provide timelines for when the Dearborn Truck Plant and Kansas City Assembly would shut down to retool operations for the all-new F-150 model.
Ford and its competitors closed U.S. plants in late March due to the pandemic. The Dearborn automaker canceled its F-150 media briefing on April 29. Ford, along with General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, plans to restart factory production in North America next week.
Ford is required to provide the UAW a copy of the preliminary annual summer shutdown schedule by June 1 for review, according to the labor contract, the union confirmed Thursday. That schedule will include factory shutdowns from June through October.
According to preliminary production schedules of Ford plants, which have been shared with their suppliers for planning purposes, there is no obvious time period listed — typically four weeks — to shut down Kansas City Assembly or Dearborn Truck to change over the plant to build a redesigned model.
The annual summer shutdown schedule reflects one- or two-week blocks to perform scheduled maintenance. Felker indicated that a big changeover can be done in much less than four weeks.
Suppliers need to know in advance the scheduling so they can make sure necessary materials are available. One missing part paralyzes the whole process.
New models of the F-150 often get built in Dearborn first.
A Ford preliminary shutdown schedule obtained by the Free Press lists Dearborn shutting down its F-150 line the weeks of Sept. 7 and Sept. 14. At Kansas City Assembly, the schedule shows the Transit Van line shutting down the weeks of Sept. 28 and Oct. 5 while the F-150 line is expected to be down Oct. 12 and Oct. 19.
Ford manufacturing executives, along with other carmakers, have been meeting for weeks coordinating suppliers, workers and government officials as they’ve been planning to restart production.
$75,000 pickup truck
The bestselling F-150 and its F-Series siblings are Ford’s most valuable franchise. The F-150 is sometimes called the “golden goose” by analysts who have said Ford’s financial health depends on the F-Series.
The cost of a 2020 F-150 can start at $28,745 and even exceed $75,000 with, as Ford executives like to say, “all the bells and whistles.” The average cost of the F-Series is $51,585.
Tim Stone, Ford chief financial officer, said during the first quarter earnings call last month that the company expected to have enough cash to last through December 2020 based on known conditions during this uncertain time.
Currently, the F-150 has the oldest design of pickup trucks made by the Detroit Three companies, competing with the increasingly popular Chevy Silverado and Ram 1500.
Ford executives have touted the launch of the new F-150 during earnings calls and sales calls for months, and during the annual shareholder meeting Thursday.
As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the economy, automakers including Ford are taking out loans and suspending dividend payments to investors to shore up cash. Ford urges investors to focus on future products.
‘Every 52 seconds’
Bill Ford, executive chairman of the company, opened the Ford annual shareholder meeting over a virtual conference call on Thursday by saying, “While our 2019 financial results didn’t meet our expectations or yours … we will soon resume an ambitious cycle of new product introductions and we’ll continue to exit from shrinking segments while adding exciting new products like the F-150.”
He noted that the company turns out an F-150 every 52 seconds.
He made no mention of a production delay of the new model.
Avoiding another crisis
Ford CEO Jim Hackett has said for the past six months, and did so again on Thursday, that the company was unhappy with its botched Ford Explorer and Lincoln Aviator launches in 2019 that led to grim year-end finances. Not only did Ford have additional costs to repair new vehicles but the problems disrupted overall sales of the popular products.
He told shareholders he has “attacked bureaucracy and overhead” at Ford and he praised the management change at the company, which moved Jim Farley up to chief operating officer and led to the early retirement of Joe Hinrichs, president of manufacturing.
The company is in “very good shape, based on addressing many fundamental or structural issues,” Hackett said. “We’re protecting the cycle plan, product plan, the launches. … We are still focused on the long game.”
“We’ve taken important steps to address last year’s operational execution issues,” Hackett said. “We’re excited about our forthcoming launch of the redesigned F-150, an anchor of the F-Series, America’s bestselling vehicle for 43 years.
“A fair question is, after all we’ve been doing, what didn’t we see? And, more importantly, how have we addressed those issues?”
He referred to “nagging warranty problems” and said “higher-than-normal” costs to outsource powertrain work led to poor product development.
“We have fully addressed these issues with our product development restructuring,” Hackett said. “And we’ve seen an improvement in early indicators of our warranty efforts.”
Overlooking problems early in the process won’t happen again, Hackett said.
“We’re putting in place extremely resilient practices to monitor the quality of past performance before they get worse. … Our quality metrics, but for this narrow issue, remain very strong,” he said.
Hackett blamed “an overly aggressive effort to simultaneously relaunch” the revamped Explorer and the brand-new Aviator at the same time led to “compounded” risk.
The Free Press reported Explorer and Aviator problems last fall, first as major issues requiring post-production repair and then customer reports of such serious issues upon delivery that, in some cases, new vehicles were bought back. The manufacturing problems also affected delivery of Police Interceptor SUVs, as first reported by the Free Press.
In addition to improved quality control and careful product launches, Ford has said it plans to focus on containing warranty costs after seeing a spike last year, too.
On Thursday, shareholder John Chevedden spent time on the call challenging the company’s accountability; he cited the “Out of Gear” Free Press investigation about transmission problems and costs associated with the defective transmissions of the Focus and Fiesta compact cars that have haunted Ford for a decade
In explaining optimism for company strength in the future, Ford said, “We had a very good first quarter last year and our stock was headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, then we had the Explorer launch, which did not go well and it really kind of knocked us back in terms of our full-year performance — that and our warranty. … In both of those issues, we feel like we’ve got our arms around them.
“Coming out of COVID, it really is all about performance,” he said. “ Look, you know, management’s compensation is heavily tied to our stock, so it’s in everyone’s interest to get our stock price back up.”