Supplier Fire, Production Shutdown … PR Boost?


2018 Ford F-150 , Image: Ford

It was a drama “worthy of a James Bond script,” the Detroit Free Press‘ sensational headline announced. Ford spokesman Mike Levine provided a hashtag-heavy rundown of the operation’s timeline via Twitter. The automaker even felt it worthy of a lengthy media release.

Never has a supply chain disruption provided a car company so much positive PR.

The hastily planned effort to restart Ford F-150 and Super Duty production stemmed from a massive May 2nd fire at Meridian Magnesium Products in Eaton Rapids, Michigan. In the blaze’s wake, several automakers found themselves lacking the various parts needed to produce a wide number of vehicles. Shutdowns and temporary layoffs followed.

Facing the loss of approximately 15,000 F-150s a week, Ford mobilized employees on both sides of the Atlantic to reach a workaround. Then it hired a Russian cargo plane. Moonraker it ain’t, but the automaker can now announce that production of the world’s best-selling vehicle resumes on Friday.

According to the company, Meridian is once again producing truck parts, having refurbished and moved tooling at Eaton Rapids. To jump-start parts production, Ford removed 19 dies from the facility on May 6th, then flew them to its facility in Nottingham, England on May 8th via an Antonov An-124 cargo plane. Ford enthusiastically states that one of the dies weighed 87,000 pounds. (The An-124 has an onboard crane capable of winching 120 tons into the belly of the Russian bird. Canada used it extensively to move military materials in the early years of the Afghanistan campaign.)

On May 14th, parts production began in Nottingham, Levine tweeted.


“While the situation remains extremely dynamic, our teams are focused on returning our plants to full production as fast as possible,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of global operations, in a statement. “The ramp-up time to full production is improving every day.”

F-150 production begins Friday at the company’s Dearborn Truck Plant. The remainder of F-150 production, as well as that of the Super Duty line, starts up at the Kansas City Assembly Plant and Kentucky Truck Plant on Monday.

The company’s release describes a heroic, and perhaps even dangerous effort to restart production of a beloved (and wildly profitable) vehicle that bleeds red, white, and blue. Raise your hand if you feel a cringe coming on. Anyway, as someone once said, never let a good crisis go to waste. Perhaps the less cynical among us will take a different view of what amounts to a fairly impressive effort, albeit one without a humanitarian bent.

Meanwhile, because Meridian isn’t yet up to speed and the supply of certain parts remain depleted, production interruptions continue for some Fiat Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz, and General Motors vehicles.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]