Ford’s Premier Manufacturing Plant a Ghost Town

My son and his girl friend were in town this past weekend and my wife and I took them to The Henry Ford to take the Ford Rouge Factory Tour.  (Ford’s Rouge plant is the one that builds the F150 pickup.  It’s a vertically integrated plant that even includes blast furnaces and a steel mill.)  If you’ve never taken a tour of an auto assembly plant, it’s really an incredible experience.  To see humans and robots working in unison on a state-of-the-art assembly line to turn piles of sheet metal and thousands of other parts into finished cars and trucks is simply amazing. 

Unfortunately, that’s not what we saw.  The plant was shut down due to lack of demand.  By the time it restarts on September 22nd, it will have been down for two months.  There wasn’t a soul in sight, not even a single maintenance worker taking the opportunity to make repairs.  No re-tooling for new models.  No capital improvements being made.  The assembly line was completely empty – no in-process trucks and no stacks of parts.  Everything was gone, leaving behind a spotlessly clean but utterly silent manufacturing facility. 

The tour still included interesting displays, including movies about the plant’s history and the production process.  So we could at least visualize what takes place there.  But I think that anyone would be disturbed to see such a modern, efficient factory completely idled, and for such a long period of time.  This speaks volumes about the state of our economy.  Believe me, folks, this is no business-cycle downturn.  All of our domestic auto manufacturers are on the brink of bankruptcy.  If they go, they’ll take millions of jobs with them and the entire manufacturing sector of our economy will vanish, dragging down the other sectors with it.  And if the manufacturing sector vanishes, there’ll be no getting it back any time soon as we will have lost all of our technical know-how. 

The time has come to protect our domestic manufacturing capability.  This isn’t just an economic issue.  It’s a matter of national security.

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3 Responses to Ford’s Premier Manufacturing Plant a Ghost Town

  1. FJ says:

    Great points…our economy is now a service economy – to “service” all the stuff (food, steel, cars) we buy from other countries instead of making it here. People want high wages & good benefits, but when globalization hits and companies realize you don’t need to give people those things in other countries, we figure out it’s easier to buy stuff from other places than make it here – easier meaning less costly. Executives pocket millions and the stock price goes up temporarily, until people realize that we don’t make anything here in the US anymore. We used to be proud of our manufacturing sector. Now this is dragging down our trade deficit (how can a country not expect this when the manufacturing sector is vanishing?).

    The US auto industry never really recovered from the 70s. Other countries simply built better (and in many cases more fuel efficient) cars, and the industry was protected for a while by tariffs, etc. Then the 70s happened and the US manufacturers had almost no incentive to make fuel efficient cars even after the first oil crisis. Chrysler should have been out of business a long time ago, but for gov’t bailouts (and later, a Benz bailout).

    Sadly, the Ford experience at the plant seems a lot like Dagny and Reardon in Atlas Shrugged going through the Midwest by car.

  2. Pete Murphy says:

    The real problem for the domestic auto industry is that every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to export cars to the U.S. is granted access to our market, but we never get access to an equivalent market in return.

    Regarding fuel-efficient cars, here’s an interesting anecdote. When I first joined my company’s automotive division in 2001, I pointed out that, since our company specializes in plastics, we should be promoting our products from a fuel efficiency perspective. Everyone looked at me like I was from Mars. “Nobody gives a crap about fuel efficiency!”, I was told. “Size and horsepower is what sells!” Nobody gets very far with taking a long-term perspective.

  3. FJ says:

    True, Pete, it’s a shame that long-term thinking doesn’t occur very often in industry. Sure, trucks and SUVs are a problem because the government allows a loophole in the fuel efficiency laws so that huge SUVs are considered “trucks” even though they’re used like passenger cars and as such they don’t have to pay a gas-guzzler tax. But even companies like Honda & Toyota, long known for light, efficient, even stripped-down vehicles to some extent are getting in on the horseepower & torque wars lately. Even in times like these with $4 gas, people want more, more, more of horsepower & gas-guzzling features like all wheel drive & six (or eight)-cylinder engines. Take a look at how they advertise new Acuras, Infinits, even Mercedes vehicles – sedans, not trucks. All about HP and how fast the 0-60 time is. And the US probably has the most restrictive speed limits out of any of the countries that send us these vehicles & the worst penalties for speeding (don’t have anything to back up that last point).

    It’s unfortunate that people are being pushed into wanting these things – which is partly their own fault for buying into it – and all the while the technology is being used to increase HP and torque while keeping fuel efficiency the same. Imagine if they had been using it all along to increase fuel efficiency ratings and not worry as much about HP?

    On your point about reciprocity, spot-on; this happens all around the world and in many industries. They don’t want our goods so they buy our currency instead and our trade deficit goes up.

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