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Ford Truck Production Stops As Company Scrambles To Find Another Part Supplier

May 10, 2018
Originally published on May 10, 2018 6:10 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A recent explosion and fire at a Michigan parts supplier has Ford Motor Company scrambling. Automakers rely on just-in-time delivery of parts. And without the ones from that supplier, Ford can't make its most important, most profitable vehicle, the F-150 truck. Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports.

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: The scene at Meridian Magnesium looks like the human equivalent of what happens when you kick an anthill over. People rush in and out of a national disaster team command center, and trucks rumble up and down the road loaded with supplies. Aaron Desentz is city manager for Eaton Rapids, where the plant is located.

AARON DESENTZ: You can see a lot of the roof in one section of the plant is completely destroyed.

SAMILTON: Meridian Magnesium is a big employer here. And nearly everyone heard the first explosion followed by others.

DESENTZ: It definitely woke a lot of people up at 1:30 in the morning.

SAMILTON: Ford employees got to the scene even before the fire department. Their goal was to remove the molds and tools that make Ford parts - front bolsters, seat frame brackets - out of the burning plant. Joe Hinrichs is head of global operations for Ford.

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JOE HINRICHS: Our tools are out of the Meridian plant, and they're ready to go at other supplier sites to get the product back up and running. But it will take us some time to get the material flowing, get the production up and running and resupply our plants.

SAMILTON: The use of magnesium for lightweight, malleable parts is relatively new in the auto industry. Kristin Dziczek with the Center for Automotive Research says it won't be easy to find another supplier while Meridian Magnesium tackles what could be a four-month reconstruction. Dziczek says automakers deal with parts shortages all the time. But it's hard to overstate the short-term impact of this one, especially after Ford's recent decision to stop making anything but SUVs and trucks.

KRISTIN DZICZEK: There were 11 million vehicles produced in the United States by all manufacturers, and last year over a million of them were Ford pickup trucks.

SAMILTON: Ford says customers won't notice much difference because dealers have an 80-day supply of trucks. But there will be a ripple effect. Meridian Magnesium made parts for other cars and other automakers. Already GM has shut down van production in Missouri, Fiat Chrysler has stopped making Pacifica minivans in Windsor, and Mercedes and BMW are affected, too. More shutdown announcements are expected soon. For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.