Screenshot from Ford Motor Co. video

Rising demand for its big SUVs has prompted Ford Motor Co. to increase capacity at Kentucky Truck Plant by adding work platforms and pits that enable workers to simultaneously access various parts of production vehicles.

Ford said that part of the production also will involve the removal of doors from the vehicle frame to ease workers’ access to the interior, which also allowed the company to move parts closer to the workers.

Reducing the distance workers have to walk to grab components, even by a few feet, increases their installation speed by a few seconds, which adds up throughout the day, said John Savona, vice president of North American Manufacturing.

He said the changes were generated after input from 40 hourly and salaried employees who had to come up with creative solutions to create more space in an already tightly packed 6-million-square-foot facility.

“They had a real challenge on their hands,” Savona said.

The plant already is operating at capacity, he said, and the team had to figure out how to increase production without compromising product quality and worker safety. Ford officials said they had used the platform/pits and door-removal approaches in other plants but not to the extent that they’re being used at KTP.

Additional work will be handled by 550 employees the company is moving to KTP from Louisville Assembly Plant. The company had announced that move in November.

Ford officials said the changes will increase the plant’s capacity to build Explorers/Navigators by 20 percent after the summer shutdown.

2019 Ford Expedition  | Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

The big SUVs are selling well, reflecting a consumer shift away from cars and toward bigger trucks and utilities, which also is boosting automakers’ profitability, as the profit margins on larger vehicles are generally bigger than on small cars.

The Expedition’s average transaction price rose to $62,700 last year, up $11,700 from 2017.  Ford said it sold 41,795 Expeditions to consumers last year, up 35 percent from 2017. The automaker said the vehicle’s market share last year was 17.5 percent, up 5.6 percentage points. While GMC (44.4 percent) and Chevrolet (25.9 percent) lost market share, Ford still was a distant third.

Numbers for the Navigator are even more impressive: Sales increased 70 percent, and most customers are buying high-end models, such as the Black Label edition, which starts near $100,000.

Matt VanDyke, director of U.S. marketing for Ford, said customers’ top reason for purchasing the Expedition last year was “passenger seating.” Second- and third-row legroom in the Expedition was larger than any of the competing vehicles, including the Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon XL, Nissan Armada and Toyota Sequoia.

VanDyke said customers also have preferred the Expedition because of its focus on high-tech gadgetry, including adaptive cruise control, a side sensing system and massaging front seats, none of which is available in the competitors’ models.

Ford planned to begin a fresh marketing campaign Monday night, VanDyke said, with new ads that will run during the NCAA tournament and other marquee events. The company previewed some of the ads in a presentation Monday morning. One of the ads read, “A first row that puts your recliner to shame.”

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Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.