Ford Motor Company to Spend $820 Million in Expansions and Upgrades on Toronto Operations

Ford Motor Co. will build a new center for fuel cell development as part of an $820 million upgrade at its Toronto-area assembly operations, the company plans to announce.

Anne Stevens, group vice president in charge of Ford's operations in Canada, Mexico and South America, said the investment will not only pay for the new research center to develop new alternative fuel sources, but also provide Ford with another North American plant flexible enough to build several different models.

The research center will initially be charged with advancing the development of a patented electricity-generation system created by Ford Motor Co. and Detroit Edison.

First tested at Ford's Rouge assembly complex in Dearborn, the system collects fumes from a plant's paint shop and feeds the fumes into a fuel cell instead of releasing them as emissions.

The fuel cell, powered by hydrocarbons in the fumes, then generates electricity for use in the plant.

Ford hopes the new center's research will lead to lower manufacturing and energy costs.

"It's about the next level of sustainable manufacturing," Stevens said.

Ford's Oakville, Ontario, plant - located just southwest of Toronto - produces the Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey minivans. The installation of flexible manufacturing equipment at the factory will begin next month, with completion expected by 2006.

The new Oakville assembly complex will be Canada's first vehicle assembly plant with flexible manufacturing, and Ford's seventh flexible factory in North America.

Flexible manufacturing plants allow for the simultaneous production of different vehicles based on two of three fundamental platform designs, also known as "architectures." And each design can support two or three body-styles, such as sedan, wagon or crossover. The same equipment is used to build all vehicles, and it can be quickly reconfigured to accommodate shifts in sales and model-year changes.

The Oakville plant will be equipped to build four different vehicles from two architectures.

Ford wants to equip 75 percent of its North American assembly plants with flexible manufacturing tools by decade's end.

Ford is also in discussions with Georgia officials about adding flexible manufacturing equipment at a plant in Atlanta.

Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents Oakville's 2,500 workers, welcomed the investment because the plant is operating on just one shift because of weak minivan demand.