DETROIT - With stocks of F-series Super Duty pickups at low levels, financially struggling Ford Motor Co. is trying to make changes at the factory to boost production.
"The dealers are saying, 'Send us more Super Dutys.' We have drawn the stocks down,'' said Steve Lyons, Ford Division's new president. Super Dutys are the F-250 and F-350 models, with beefier suspensions and engines than the F-150.
The F series is one of the few bright spots in Ford Division's sales performance. Through April, sales of the F series, including Super Duty models, are virtually even with a year ago. In contrast, Ford Division's total U.S. sales dropped 10.1 percent in the period. Super Duty sales accounted for about 40 percent, or 360,000 units, of F-series production last year.
Ford is scrambling to modify the paint shop and other areas of its Super Duty assembly plant in Louisville, Ky. The company wants to boost Super Duty production by 30,000 units annually on the assembly line that the model shares with the Ford Excursion.
"Our hope is that in the fourth quarter we will be able to make the rearrangements in the plant,'' Lyons said. He was promoted to president of the division three weeks ago.
At the end of March, Super Duty stocks stood at 50,000 units, Lyons said. A year earlier, dealer inventory totaled 90,000 units, and "even at that level we would have liked to have more on the ground,'' he said.
In January, Ford eliminated one of three assembly shifts on the line building Super Dutys and the slower-selling Excursion. Now, Ford is trying to add 30,000 Super Duty units annually to the build on the remaining two shifts. The company isn't recalling the shift because it doesn't want to boost Excursion production.
"As of March, we have added 15,000 units (on an annualized basis) through line speed increases,'' said Della DiDietro, Ford spokeswoman. "The biggest issue is the paint shop. We have to make changes to the paint shop while we continue production, and that is not easily done.''
Through April, F-series sales, including Super Duty, totaled 270,184, compared with 269,358 in the year-ago period. In contrast to that steady performance, Ford Division's U.S. sales in the first four months of 2002 declined 10.1 percent to 944,732 units.