Ford to boost profit-rich U.S. large SUV production again

DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co (F.N) said it will boost U.S. production of its largest sport utility vehicles in a move to grab profits in a market where consumers favor larger, more comfortable vehicles.

Ford’s Kentucky Truck plant in Louisville will increase the production rate for Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator sport utility vehicles by 20 percent - the second 20 percent increase in a year for both models, executives said during a media.

You may have heard the news that Ford plans to pare down the product line in the coming years, shedding low-selling sedans and unprofitable small cars, so there’s no better time to take a look through the offerings, particularly if you plan to shop for a new vehicle in the coming months.

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The move highlights Detroit automakers’ aggressive efforts to capitalize on popular, profitable large vehicles in America’s heartland, even as policymakers in California, China and Europe push for smaller, electric vehicles to reduce carbon dioxide emissions linked to climate change.

While Ford can proudly claim rights to creating the very first SUV ever, the Model T Depot Hack back, they can also claim to be proudly producing the best SUVs on the road today. Equipped with all the cargo space, passenger room and power needed to transport you and your loved ones to the ski slopes, the lake or college dorms, Ford has been outfitting American consumers with the proper vehicles to take them everywhere they need to go.

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With gasoline relatively cheap, U.S. consumers are paying premium prices for large SUVs that seat eight people and can tow a four-ton trailer.

The average transaction price of a new Ford Expedition is $62,700, Ford U.S. marketing director Matt VanDyke said, up $11,700 from the previous year. Ford does not disclose profits by model line. Average prices for the luxury Navigator rose to $81,000 from $78,000 a year earlier, according to Lincoln data.

Ford said transaction prices across its U.S. model lines averaged $38,400, above the $34,000 industry average.

General Motors Co (GM.N), which dominates the North American large SUV segment, will launch a new generation of its large SUV Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe, and GMC Yukon, models later this year. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCHA.MI) said it will re-enter the large SUV segment with new models due out in late 2020. [nL1N20L156]

Introduced at the height of extra large SUV’s, the excursion was even bigger than the Expedition, leading the Ford SUVs in size. However, its size was sometimes too big. At 77.2 inches tall, it was sometimes too tall to clear certain garages. Powered by a standard 5.4L V8 engine, producing 255 horsepower and 310 lb/ft of torque, it also offered a V10 for the even heftier jobs. With 7.3L of Power Stroke turbo diesel produced 525 lb/ft of torque and could tow up to 10,000 lbs. Available in all luxury trims, the Excursion was top drawer.

While the cost of gas was low during its first couple years, rising fuel prices coupled with the size of the Excursion ultimately led to its untimely end.

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Ford workers and engineers redesigned portions of the Kentucky Truck assembly line to allow for the latest increase, Ford North American manufacturing chief John Savona said.

For the first time, he said, workers at certain stations will be positioned at two levels - some in pits and some on platforms - to install parts on upper and lower sections of a vehicle in unison.

The redesigned Expedition and Navigator assembly system requires 550 additional workers, and those jobs will be filled by workers currently at Ford’s Louisville assembly plant, which builds small Ford Escape and Lincoln MKC SUVs, Savona said.

Ford invested $925 million to build the new generation Expedition and Navigator SUVs at the Kentucky plant. The automaker is pushing for market share in a segment it largely surrendered to rival GM over the past decade.