Ford F-150 output pinched by frame shortage, workers say

A truck carries frames for the Ford F-150 north on Interstate 75 from a supplier plant in Kentucky to Dearborn, Mich. Photo credit: Larry P. Vellequette

DETROIT -- Production of the redesigned, aluminum-bodied Ford F-150 has been slowed by a shortage of frames from a supplier’s plant in Kentucky, according to workers and a UAW official.

They said Ford has canceled some planned overtime at the two plants that build the pickup and sent workers there home early multiple times in the past few months.

“Demand for our F-150 is sky high. Frames continue to hold both truck plants back from running overtime days on the weekend,” Todd Hillyard, the bargaining chairman of Ford’s Kansas City Assembly Plant with UAW Local 249, wrote on Facebook today.

The F-150 frames come from a plant in Elizabethtown, Ky., owned by Metalsa S.A. de C.V., a Mexican company that bought Dana Corp.’s structural products business in 2010.

A worker at Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant in Michigan, who didn’t want to be identified discussing internal business, said the problem has prevented the plant from running any “Super Sunday” shifts, when workers earn double their usual pay rate. The worker said a team of Ford employees is at the Metalsa plant to help resolve the issue.

Two other workers at the Dearborn plant said the frame shortages and reduced shifts have been ongoing for several months.

Ford is canceling Saturday’s overtime shift at the Kansas City plant because it doesn’t have enough Metalsa-supplied frames, Hillyard wrote. The Dearborn plant has canceled “several super days already” for the same reason, he added.

Hillyard wrote in an April 1 post that both F-150 plants “have had a few shifts canceled due to a frame supplier not being able to keep up.” In that post, he said Ford had told the UAW that it hoped “to have the issue resolved after the Easter weekend.” Easter was April 5.

Ford spokeswoman Kristina Adamski declined to directly address questions from Automotive News about the frame shortages earlier this month and again today.

“We are producing the all-new F-150 at full production at Dearborn Truck Plant and will be at full production this quarter at our Kansas City Assembly Plant,” Ford said in an emailed statement today identical to one it provided Automotive News on May 12. “As with all our vehicle launches, we are working closely with our suppliers to meet customer demand for the truck.”

Officials at Metalsa and UAW Local 3047, which represents workers at the Elizabethtown plant, could not be reached for comment.

Metalsa invested $70 million last year to expand the plant by 91,000 square feet, according to Kentucky economic-development officials.

Production ramp-up 

Ford began building the 2015 F-150 in November at the Dearborn plant and several months later in Kansas City. The model-changeover process has kept supplies of the truck tight, with April being the first month that the redesigned version accounted for at least half of retail sales.

Ford said the Dearborn plant completed its ramp-up process in January. The company produced 29,373 F-150s last month, 9.2 percent fewer than in April 2014, according to the Automotive News Data Center. The Kansas City plant, which resumed F-150 production in March after a more than $1 billion upgrade, produced 20,602 trucks in April, 28 percent fewer than the same month a year ago.

Total F-series sales -- including Super Duty trucks -- declined 0.9 percent in April and are up 1.4 percent on the year so far. May sales are reported next week.

Brian Godfrey, the chairman of the Ford National Dealer Council and president of a dealership in Redford Township, Mich., said he hasn’t heard of any unexpected delivery delays on the F-150.

Ford had a 77-day supply of all classes of F-series trucks as of May 1, up from 68 a month earlier, according to the Automotive News Data Center.

Profitable redesign 

It’s unclear exactly how much production Ford has lost, but any material reduction in output could be notable given the huge profits generated by the F-150. First-quarter production declines of 40 percent for the F-150 production and more than 50 percent for the newly redesigned Ford Edge crossover combined to cut the company’s North American profits by at least $1 billion, Ford CFO Bob Shanks said last month.

TrueCar last week said demand for the F-150 has compelled Chevrolet, GMC and Ram to increase discounts on their trucks in an attempt to keep Ford from stealing market share. Average transaction prices for the F-series have risen about $3,200 from a year ago, to $42,500, TrueCar said.

“The initial success of the all-new aluminum body F-series is undeniable,” TrueCar President John Krafcik said in a May 18 statement. “We project that positive sales and revenue momentum will continue and expect automakers within the full-size segment to offer larger-than-usual discounts to remain competitive.”

Hillyard wrote in today’s Facebook post that he expects the plant to begin running all-out as soon as Metalsa can build enough frames.

“Everyone needs to be prepared for overtime in the Truck System as it will be very busy the rest of this year,” he wrote. “Quality has been very good during the launch of the new truck so all of you should be proud of that and continue the good work you are doing to make sure we are putting out the best truck we can build.”

Larry P. Vellequette contributed to this report.

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