LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — About 3,200 hourly workers at Ford Motor Co.’s Louisville Assembly Plant are back on the job after a roller coaster of week-to-week layoffs in the first three months of 2023.
But as the plant’s two shifts settle back to regular work producing the Escape SUV, the automaker is also planning to slow the plant’s output starting next week — a change that has sparked anxiety among some workers about job security.
Louisville Assembly, or LAP, plans to cut its “jobs per hour” from 85 to 79, a change that “may require a corresponding change to job allocations and job assignments,” plant manager Andrew Tapp told workers in a March 29 memo, a copy of which was obtained by WDRB News.
Tapp’s memo does not disclose the reason for the change, and Ford did not respond to a request for comment.
Brandon Reisinger, LAP building chairman for the United Auto Workers union, said no one at the plant will lose a job, but a small amount of positions may be lost through normal attrition.
“I am not trying to spin it as a good thing,” Reisinger told WDRB News. “But it’s not anything to panic over.”
Reisinger said the reduction in line speed is not nearly as severe as cuts the plant made two decades ago when its previous product, the Explorer, was near the end of its time at LAP.
Reisinger said he doesn’t anticipate further reductions in output at the plant. (LAP also produces the Lincoln Corsair, though the Escape is more than 80% of its volume.)
In the March 29 memo, Tapp said he was excited that LAP will soon ship 2023 Escape units to dealers.
The plant started making the 2023 models earlier this year, but the launch of the reworked vehicle was plagued by software problems and parts shortages.
Week-by-week production cancelations resulted in about six down weeks during the first three months of the year.
As a consequence, the plant produced the fewest Escapes during the January-March period in at least four years — significantly fewer than in 2021, when the worldwide semiconductor shortage roiled the industry, according to WDRB’s analysis of Ford figures.
The situation underscores uncertainty about the future of the Escape, which makes up a smaller share of Ford’s portfolio than it did five years ago. In addition to the proliferation of similarly sized vehicles made by competitors, Ford’s own Bronco Sport launched in 2021 has eaten into the Escape’s market share.
“The Escape doesn't move as much; there's a lot of them on the road, a ton of them in the used car market. So, they want to force people — if you want that size of vehicle, here comes a Bronco Sport; it's fresher, it’s more urban,” said Joseph McCabe, CEO of AutoForecast Solutions, an industry consulting firm.
UAW leaders have said they will push for a long-term commitment to Louisville Assembly Plant as part of the union’s contract negotiations with Ford later this year.
RELATED: ‘Protect what we have’ | At Ford's Louisville Assembly Plant, Escape’s decline raises questions about future
AutoForecast Solutions sees LAP transitioning to making an electric vehicle in 2026. McCabe said such a move would make sense given that LAP is the closest assembly plant to BlueOval SK, the $5.8 billion EV battery factory that Ford and Korean partner SK On are building in Hardin County, Ky.
“The battery plant proximity is a major win in that (decision),” McCabe said, “but who knows what comes out of the next negotiations and what plants get the capacity.”