DEARBORN (WWJ) - A red F-150 pickup truck, with the "Built Ford Tough" and UAW logos on the front, ushered in a new era of manufacturing at Ford's legendary Rouge complex.
"We are here today to make history," said Executive Chairman Bill Ford.
The history is not just a new version of Ford's most important product, but one that's made differently, with an aluminum body.
"This is exciting," said worker Barnell Marx, Jr. "It's real exciting. We're looking forward to this new venture we're going to take."
The change was made to help Ford meet new fuel economy rules, by taking about 700 pounds of weight out of the F-150. Ford has also improved the engine, recently adding a new more fuel-efficient, "EcoBoost" six cylinder engine.
"Literally over the past 25 years, the number one unmet need for full size pickup buyers has been better fuel economy," said Ford CEO Mark Fields.
Ford will announce the F-150's official fuel economy ratings later this month.
The F-150 has been the nation's best-selling vehicle for 37 years. Ford sold more than 647 thousand of the pickups last year, putting out one every 49 seconds.
By some estimates, the vehicle accounts for as much as 90 percent of Ford's profits.
"This is one vehicle that saved Ford Motor Company," said UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles.
Dearborn Truck is one of Ford's newest plants, built on the historic Rouge Complex in the late 1990's.
The project personally pushed on by Bill Ford.
"To me, the Rouge is the heart and soul of how I feel about this company."
The plant underwent a massive upgrade earlier this year, including a new body shop, and the addition of 850 new workers.
"It's awesome," said Ford worker Jim Stamm. "I love the truck. I think it's gonna sell really well. We've got a great group of people here who are going to do a great job."
Ford will soon do a similar overhaul of its truck plant in Kansas City. Between the two plants, the upgrade costs will top a billion dollars.
The first trucks will start appearing in dealerships next month.
"We'll be at full speed in terms of production, some time in the second quarter," said CEO Mark Fields. "Also at that time--end of first quarter, second quarter--you'll start seeing significant amount of vehicles in showrooms."
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