Ford's European plants are working flat out

Capacity utilization "almost 100 percent"

Cologne. Ford's plants in Europe are working at nearly full capacity due to strong demand for the new Focus and C-Max models.

Ford Europe's production chief John Fleming said Ford, unlike other volume manufacturers, has achieved a plant utilization of "almost 100 percent."

Ford added five extra shifts at its plant in Saarlouis, Germany, to cope with orders for the new Focus.

Ford has received more than 50,000 orders for the Focus since its launch last autumn.

Ford also has boosted the annual production capacity of its Russian plant near St. Petersburg to 40,000 units from 27,000. The new Ford will go into production there starting May.

However, Ford will not increase plant capacity any further. "We now have the size that we need," said Fleming.

Ford has restructured its European plants over the past four years and laid off 7,000 employees.

Fleming said last year Ford Europe built 1.72 million vehicles in its six plants. The plants are Cologne and Saarlouis in Germany; Valencia in Spain; Genk in Belgium; Istanbul in Turkey and St. Petersburg.

Fleming believes Ford's prospects for new-car sales in eastern and central Europe are good but says the automaker does not need a new plant in the region.

He said eastern and central European markets could be supplied from Turkey and Ford's "highly productive" plants in western Europe.

The Cologne plant currently is at the top of Ford's internal productivity ranking, judged by assembly time per vehicle. Saarlouis is in second place and Genk is third.

Currently only the Mondeo is built in Genk, but the plant is being upgraded to build the new Galaxy large minivan in 2006 and the new Mondeo in 2007.

Production of a crossover minivan based on the SAV concept shown at Geneva auto show may also go to Genk, as early as this year.

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