By on April 29, 2020

A South Carolina assembly plant that took major damage from a tornado back on April 13th is making headway in returning to production. It’s still a long way from normal, but the plant’s promise of “limited production” in the coming weeks should be music to the ears of Ford, which relies on the Seneca, SC facility for components for its biggest-margin vehicles.

It still isn’t known when exactly Ford plans to restart vehicle assembly in the U.S., but May 18th has been floated as a possibility. In Seneca, the tornado-toppled BorgWarner plant, builder of transfer cases for 4×4 systems, could be back in business by that point. Sort of.

As reported by Automotive News, the facility aims to reach limited production by early May, with a plant spokesperson saying, “We have teams on-site working on necessary repairs to the facility to make this happen in a safe and efficient way.”

An elderly security guard was killed in the early morning hours of April 13th after the twister took aim at the sprawling plant, located near the Georgia and Tennessee borders. Packing winds of 160 mph, the EF-3 tornado ripped the roof and walls from much of the building’s envelope, causing untold mayhem inside.

Both BorgWarner and Ford, which uses Seneca-supplied transfer cases for the F-150 and Expedition, among other big-bucks models, said the plant and the equipment inside was not a write-off. However, neither could initially say how long the plant would be offline. As Ford grapples with a shock to its finances caused by the coronavirus pandemic, maintaining a steady flow of popular, high-margin vehicles to Americans slowly emerging from lockdown will be crucial to its recovery.

Toyota is also known to source transfer cases from Seneca for its Tundra full-size pickup, and the same goes for Ram and its 1500 (per the Associated Press). Clearly, a crucial component from a plant knocked offline during an already trying time.

BorgWarner took to Facebook on Wednesday to inform employees that some workers will be called back to the plant next week. “The rumors are true … we are officially restarting next week with LIMITED PRODUCTION,” the company wrote.

How many workers will be needed, and what kind of output the plant can manage given its present condition, remains to be seen. With vehicle sales depressed by the pandemic (though not nearly as much as you’d think, in the case of full-size pickups), perhaps the disaster’s timing can be seen as a silver lining. Existing inventory — and perhaps new builds made with whatever transfer cases still remain on site — could be enough to satisfy demand until BorgWarner gets its act together in full.

Maybe.

[Image: Ford]

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