Date: Thursday, May 4, 2023
Source: Wall Street Journal
Ford Motor has run into another production snag building its top-selling pickup trucks—this time due to difficulties getting door handles.
The auto maker temporarily halted factory work at three plants over the weekend where it makes both gasoline and electric versions of the F-150 pickup truck, unable to get the right door handles, said people with knowledge of the situation.
Production has since resumed at the facilities, but now workers are building some trucks with substitute handles—including ones that are the wrong color or don’t have the proper key holes—as a stopgap measure until the correct parts are available, the people said.
Factory workers need to temporarily install the substitute handles to easily get in and out of the vehicle as it moves down the assembly line and to do certain checks from inside the vehicle, the people said.
The incomplete trucks are then being parked and shipments to customers put on hold until the right handles can be swapped in, the people said.
“While a supplier part shortage is affecting some of our North American plants, we expect to make up all of the production that is impacted,” a Ford spokeswoman said.
She added that the majority of vehicles being built at the three plants—one near Kansas City, Mo., and two in Dearborn, Mich.—have the proper parts and the situation is improving daily. She declined to say how long the company expects to hold vehicle shipments.
The door handle constraint is the latest in a series of obstacles Ford has faced in the past year building both its F-Series pickup trucks—among the company’s biggest moneymakers—and a new electric version, the F-150 Lightning, which executives say has a long waiting list of customers.
In September, Ford said it was holding back shipments of some F-Series trucks due to difficulties getting badges that display the model name and blue oval logo. Earlier this year, it halted factory work on the F-150 Lightning for five weeks, after one caught fire because of a battery defect.
The Dearborn, Mich., auto maker has said a lack of semiconductors and other parts constraints have also disrupted factory work and resulted in it having to delay deliveries because the vehicles weren’t finished.
While parts shortages have plagued other major car companies, Ford executives have been candid that some of its financial difficulties have been rooted in its own poor supply-chain management. Ford Chief Executive Jim Farley said in February that this challenge dented profits last year and has resulted in Ford lagging behind competitors in its cost structure.
In addition to the door handles, the supply disruption has led to troubles getting some nameplates used on the F-150 trucks, particularly those on the charging port lid and fenders, according to several of the people with knowledge of the matter.
Ford’s pickup truck line is a major profit driver for the auto maker and strong sales of these highly lucrative models helped the company post a $1.8 billion profit in the first quarter.
The electric Lightning is also a high-profile model for the auto maker, which is working to transition more of its lineup to battery-powered models and take on Tesla as the market leader in EVs.
The Lightning began rolling off assembly lines in April last year, giving Ford a jump on competitors, including Tesla, which plans to release its Cybertruck later this year.
Ford has twice increased its production targets for the Lightning, with a goal of building 150,000 pickups a year later in 2023.
Ford’s Chief Financial Officer John Lawler said on the company’s earnings call Tuesday that it had done a lot of work to improve the rate and flow of semiconductors and production stability and is working through other potential issues with the supply base outside of chips. “It was a much smoother quarter,” he said.
The company faced a major setback in February, when a F-150 Lightning in a Ford holding lot caught fire during a pre-delivery quality check and the blaze spread to a nearby vehicle. A company spokeswoman at the time said there was no reason to believe F-150 Lightnings already in customers’ hands were affected by the issue. Ford later issued a recall for 18 Lightning trucks.
Factory production of the electric pickup resumed on March 13 after Ford determined that the root cause of the fire was related to a supplier problem that caused the affected battery cells to short circuit while at a high state of charge.
Still, the five-week plant shutdown hurt sales and weighed on its financial results. On Tuesday, Ford reported that its electric-vehicle division lost $722 million in the quarter, in part due to lost output of the Lightning.