Lagging sales of compact and electric cars are starting to take their toll on automakers. Ford said Thursday it intends to lay off 700 employees who work at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, MI, over the next five months. The plant makes Ford Focus and C-Max vehicles. Sales of both have stalled in recent months.

The layoffs affect 675 hourly and 25 salaries employees, and will begin in late June and continue through September, according to paperwork filed with state officials. The company expects to re-hire the affected employees elsewhere and use them on temporary basis throughout the summer.

Ford spokesperson Kristina Adamski said the affected employees will be "first in line" for other jobs at nearby plants, and UAW vice president Jimmy Settles said he expected all would be re-hired at other southeast Michigan factories by "early 2016."

Although industry sales have remained high overall, the growth has come from SUVs and pickup trucks. Conversely, compact cars and alternate-powered vehicles like the C-Max have struggled to find customers amid cheap gasoline prices. Focus monthly sales fell 14.5 percent year over year in March, and C-Max monthly sales dropped 22.9 percent over the same period.

It was less than three years ago that Ford hailed the Michigan Assembly Plant as a model for its future, one that would quickly adapt to market conditions through a more flexible assembly process. The plant was retrofitted at a cost of $550 million so that the same assembly line could install electric, plug-in hybrid or gasoline powertrains. Ford produces the Focus, Focus ST, Focus Electric, C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi here.

At the time, company officials said the flexible line was a way to "not be trapped with dedicated one-trick-pony plants where you have under-capacity or over-capacity situations," said Jim Tetreault, Ford's vice president of North American manufacturing, in November 2012.

But that's exactly where Ford finds itself as consumers have turned away from both compact and gas-sipping hybrids and electrics as gas prices have fallen to a national average of $2.49 per gallon, according to Thursday's AAA Fuel Gauge Report. One year ago, gas prices averaged $3.70 per gallon.

In perhaps a melancholy twist, the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator that were phased out at Michigan Assembly by the retrofit are once again the types of vehicles that are sought after by consumers.

"We are reminded from time to time that our industry is cyclical and volatile to market conditions," Settles said. "Fortunately, through collective bargaining, we have been able to negotiate provisions through the years that allow protections for our members adversely affected by production reductions."


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