A former SUV factory in Michigan is now one of the world's most versatile auto assembly plants, according to Ford.
The carmaker said that with its first plug-in hybrid car, the C-Max Energi, in full production, its rebuilt Michigan Assembly Plant (MAP) is the world's only plant to build petrol-powered, electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles all on the same production line, and the only one to produce four vehicles delivering 40mpg (48mpg UK) or more in real-world driving.
Indeed, the C-Max Energi is rated as delivering 108MPGe (130mpg UK, 2.2l/100km) on a city driving cycle. Ford claimed this made it “America's most fuel-efficient and affordable plug-in hybrid vehicle”, eclipsing its great rival, the Toyota Prius plug-in.
Making MAP this flexible has taken an investment of $550m over four years, Ford said. During that time, its manufacturing and product development teams have worked together to create product platform designs that enable the use of programmable equipment to produce multiple variations of products in one facility. Today, more than 80 per cent of the tooling in the plant's body shop can be programmed to weld a variety of body styles. This allows Ford to quickly adjust the mix between models as customer preferences change.
The company's engineers also collaborated with UAW union representatives, for example to design job stations in the final assembly area that can be adapted to different kinds of work content, depending on the vehicle. So even though C-Max vehicles have 1,074 parts that differ from the Focus, both vehicles travel through nearly all of the same 604 workstations in the trim and chassis areas.
Several workstations play key roles in the plant's ability to build both electrified and gasoline-powered cars. At one chassis station, workers have plastic fuel tanks on one side of the line and electric chargers on the other. Depending on the build sequence, they install either a charger in a Focus battery-electric vehicle (BEV), or a fuel tank in a C-Max or petrol-powered Focus.
Similarly, multiple stations in the trim area have been reconfigured so that the work team has a longer time window for the complex functions of installing the high-voltage wiring and battery into a C-Max or Focus BEV, while being given quicker tasks to perform when petrol-powered Focus cars come down the line.
"Michigan Assembly Plant is setting a new global standard for flexible manufacturing, and is a central part of Ford's important milestone, sweeping Toyota across the board for fuel economy leadership," said Jim Tetreault, Ford vice president of North America Manufacturing.