The investment adds to $900 million in previously announced spending at the plant, which also builds F-Series Super-Duty pickups and employs 8,400 workers. Assembly-line workers are putting in overtime and working voluntary weekend shifts to keep up with demand. The new investment will cover upgrades to the assembly line but does not involve further hiring, Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker says.
The popularity of the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator is a bright spot as Ford stock has been battered by Wall Street amid concerns concerns about the automaker's future vision and slowness to detect trends. Ford says the investment is an example of its bid to improve "operational fitness," one of CEO Jim Hackett's common refrains.
Ford says Navigator retail sales more than doubled in January, and Navigators are spending an average of just seven days on Lincoln dealership lots as customers trade in vehicles including Land Rovers and Mercedes-Benz. Nearly 85 percent of buyers are opting for high-end Black Label and Reserve trim packages, contributing to an average transaction price increase of more than $21,000 in January compared to a year ago. The 2018 Navigator won the North American Truck of the Year award and also topped a Detroit News poll of public favorites at last month's Detroit Auto Show.
Sales of the Expedition, meanwhile, were up almost 57 percent last month as the full-size SUVs also spent an average of just a week on dealer lots. Platinum trim models represented 29 percent of sales, pushing transaction price increases up $7,800. Ford gave the 2018 Expedition an all-aluminum body to save mass in its first significant redesign since 2007.
The plant last year got nearly 400 new robots, mainly in the body shop, to help increase line speed, and Ford added a robot lab where employees can test software tweaks or troubleshoot issues away from the factory floor. The Louisville plant also benefits from extensive new data analytics, with seven big-screen monitors providing minute-by-minute updates showing progress against hourly targets or alerting workers to pending parts shortages. A huge spare-parts "vending machine" lets workers more quickly locate needed parts and keep inventory at necessary levels. Also installed was a 3D printer to print individual parts more inexpensively when necessary.