C-Max Energi joins varied lineup at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne

Posted on November 8, 2012

Ford workers have added production of the 2013 C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne that has become the poster child for a work force trained to build five very different vehicles.

The plug-in joins the C-Max hybrid, as well as the Ford Focus, Focus ST performance car and Focus Electric.

They all ride on the same compact car underpinnings, but the complexity on the assembly line is real and the plant was designed to make as many as five different styles of vehicle from two different platforms.

Currently, 1 in 4 vehicles running down the line is a hybrid which is all they can handle, said Melanie Kobylas, a trim launch leader. During a tour, she shows stations on the line where a skillet raises the cars that need batteries assembled underneath while the skillets with regular Focuses remain at ground level and operators perform different assembly functions on them.

To further complicate matters, a third shift of 1,200 new hires was added in May and many have never worked in an auto plant before. About 100 new jobs are because of the added complexity associated with electrification.

On Thursday, Michigan Assembly was scheduled to make 1,234 vehicles; 218 of them a C-Max.

Ford has hired 5,200 workers in the U.S. this year, of which 4,800 are entry-level workers, as opposed to emptying the jobs bank or taking transfers from other operations. More than 1,200 will be added next year with the addition of a shift at the Flat Rock plant that will add Fusion production.

Entry-level workers have lower wages – about $15 compared with more than $26 – which has reduced manufacturing cost, said Jim Tetreault, head of North American manufacturing for Ford. Multiple vehicles on the same line also brings cost down.

Tetreault noted the average age of Ford’s work force is down significantly. The average age of the 800 new hires for a third shift in Chicago is 25, the youngest he has seen in his career.

“It’s a different cohort we’re dealing with,” Tetreault said. “They are younger and haven’t worked in a factory before,” which means a need for more basic training, including how to hold a tool.

Michigan Assembly is one of a growing number of Ford facilities running with three crews of workers on two shifts. Tetreault said there are now five vehicle assembly, four powertrain and all stamping plants on at least two shifts. Ford has added 400,000 units of capacity this year in the U.S. alone.

The annual Harbour Report productivity study puts Ford at 114% capacity in the U.S. Tetreault said that is the highest he has seen and it is helped by the closure last year of the Twin Cities, Minn., and St. Thomas, Ontario, plants that were running on a single shift.

The flexibility allows Ford to add a new vehicle such as the C-Max Energi plug-in at Michigan Assembly without interrupting the other four vehicles already in production even though the new car has 1,100 different parts from a Focus. That is something the plant, which was dedicated to making full-size SUVs until 2008, could not do before its $550-million investment to convert it to a car plant capable of making many models.

With the C-Max Energi now on sale, Ford beats Toyota in fuel efficiency in every segment in which it competes, Tetreault said.

That is significant because the Prius has 65% of the hybrid market, even though Ford just had its best-ever October for hybrid sales, said Kevin Layden, director of electrified vehicle engineering.

The $29,995 C-Max Energi (after federal tax credits) gets the equivalent of 100 m.p.g. in combined city and highway driving, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid gets 95 m.p.g., and the Chevrolet Volt extended-range hybrid gets 98 m.p.g. Next year, Honda will sell an Accord plug-in hybrid estimated to get 100 m.p.g. or better.

Ford will offer a second plug-in with the Fusion Energi that goes on sale early next year and is projected to be certified at the equivalent of 100 m.p.g. or better.

C-Max is an all-new nameplate for Ford in North America, but the crossover also is sold in Europe, as well as a larger version called the Grand C-Max. In the U.S., only the smaller C-Max is on the market and it is a dedicated hybrid family with no conventional gasoline equivalent.

The Energi will be on sale across the country by the end of the year.

The C-Max hybrid is already on sale and in October, its first full month of sales, the Ford outsold the Prius v 3,182 to 2,769.

The C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid has larger batteries that can be charged by plugging the vehicle into an electrical outlet or a charging station. The car can operate in electric-only mode with a range of 21 miles or as a hybrid using a combination of batteries and gasoline engine or run on the gas engine to save the battery pack. There is an EV button on the center stack to choose the mode. Total range is 620 miles.

By using common parts with other hybrids, Ford was able to cut cost by 30% on the C-Max Energi, said Gil Portalatin, chief engineer for electrified vehicles.

Alisa Priddle, Detroit Free Press