Ford CEO Alan Mulally touted the automaker’s investment of about $900 million in its two Louisville factories Tuesday night, calling the city the “center of excellence” for a new lineup of vehicles.
Speaking to the Greater Louisville Inc. annual dinner at the KFC Yum! Center downtown, Mulally said the $600 million makeover of the Louisville Assembly Plant will put the factory at the heart Fords lan to produce multiple models off the nimble, “C platform,” chassis and suspension.
“This will be not only the best quality vehicle but the very best value. And right here is the center of excellence in Louisville, Ky.,” he told the crowd of more than 1,600.
“This new Escape. … The next version of this is going to change the world. You saw the concept vehicle at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit is really close to the new Escape,” he said of the first vehicle confirmed for the refurbished plant.
“We are going to make more than 2 million of these Escapes worldwide. We’ll make ten different variations of this platform, wagons, small SUVs, hybrids, plug in hybrids.”
Among the crowd, which GLI officials said was a record for its annual meeting, was Ron Gettelfinger, retired president of the United Auto Workers. Gettelfinger once worked at the Louisville Assembly Plant and served as president of UAW Local 862.
“I’m just a retiree here to see him talk,” Gettelfinger said beforehand.
In introducing Mulally, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said, “Our city and state are investing in Ford. And in turn, Ford is investing in our city and state, and most importantly, our people.”
“Holding onto these good, blue collar jobs in the middle class is critical and Ford gets it right,” Fischer said.” Ford is a leader in figuring out how to get this done and that is important for Louisville and America.”
Ford employs 5,300 people at the Louisville Assembly and Kentucky Truck plants. Ford expects to add 1,800 employees later this year when the renovation of Louisville Assembly is completed.
In addition, Ford suppliers and vendors employ 8,000 people in the region, according to GLI.
Mulally recently was awarded $56.5 million worth of stock for his oversight of the automaker’s turnaround.
Over the last two years, Ford has earned a profit of $9.3 billion after losing more than $30 billion between 2006 and 2008.In addition to March 3 stock award, Mulally also has received stock and stock options worth $313 million, based on the stock’s closing price of $14 Monday.
In all, Ford paid Mulally $17.9 million in compensation in 2009, according to the automaker’s proxy filing that year.
When he assumed command at Ford in 2006, the automaker “was in a big way in denial… kind of like the Kremlin and not really dealing with that,” Mulally said. The automaker was losing money, but managers were seeing success everywhere they looked.
Mulally talked about how by confronting Ford managers, they began to communicate honestly the status of company issues worldwide.
On the heels of Ford’s success, an audience member asked Mulally to explain the keys to reviving U.S. competitiveness.
“You got to decide that manufacturing is important,” he said. “I am just so pleased that the pendulum is swinging back and we are deciding that manufacturing is important.”
The U.S. needs to engender energy independence, he said, adding 68 percent of all oil is imported. In addition to that, the U.S. “must compete with the best in the world. Everybody around the world is starting to grow their economy and they all want to base their economies on engineering and manufacturing.”
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