'We're Ready' Says Ford COO As Company Awaits Lockdown Easing

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
8216 were ready says ford coo as company awaits lockdown easing

Ford Motor Company’s chief operating officer, Jim Farley, joined the company’s chief human resources officer, Kiersten Robinson, and manufacturing and labor affairs boss Gary Johnson for a media Q&A Thursday, offering up details on what it will look like when the automaker returns to the business of cranking out [s]cars[/s] trucks and SUVs.

That’s already begun in China, where 90 percent of the company’s employees are now back to work. It’s Europe’s turn to come back online now (the region is due to start a ramp-up on May 4th), as the Blue Oval awaits the go-ahead from the state of Michigan.

It all hinges on Michigan, apparently, given the critical mass of manufacturing and suppliers in that locale. When Gov. Whitmer eases shelter-in-place orders, Farley said, the company will leap into action.

Health protocol enacted in China and Taiwan will guide the automaker’s restart in other regions, the company claims, with personal protective equipment and distancing becoming the norm at the job site and health questionnaires and thermal scanning greeting workers who can’t do their jobs from home. The tally of Ford employees who’ve turned their living room into an office stands at 125,000.

Through agreements with local hospitals, anyone fitting the bill of a COVID-19 case will be turned away for testing, with results pending in 24 hours. Robinson said the company “will not have a reliable and scalable testing solution for some time,” meaning self-validation and thermal scanning at the front door and a potential day lost for individual workers will have to be the fallback.

Everything from the (pre-packaged) food served in cafeterias to the organization of break rooms, plexiglass dividers between work stations, and masks and shields worn by workers who have to exist, on occasion, within six feet of each other will reduce transmission potential to a minimum, the company claims. Workers will be provided with a kit that contains all the things they need, including disinfectants. Via its experience in China, Ford developed its “Return to Work Playbook” — a digital document being sent to all of its sites that outlines proper protocol. Ford says it is consulting with epidemiologists and health officials to keep daily tabs on regional and local outbreaks and threat levels.

Would Farley feel safe sending his family to work at, say, a Michigan assembly plant?

“I would feel confident,” the COO replied to exactly that question, adding that he has “complete trust in the process we’ve come up with.”

Given the heavy presence of both Ford and its many suppliers in Michigan, and the fact that the UAW is apparently on board with Ford’s health protocol, the easing of Gov. Whitmer’s shelter-in-place orders will be the key to returning to work. Michigan recently extended those orders through May 15th.

Even though other states are opening themselves up for business, Farley said the close integration of Ford’s scattered plants and its suppliers means production can’t return piecemeal. “We’ve always approached this as an integrated start,” he said. Stamping and powertrain operations would resume at the same time as vehicle assembly, not sooner. The company’s suppliers will also be ready to go whenever production resumes, Farley said, and they’ll be privy to Ford’s health protocol, too.

“We feel comfortable with our suppliers’ start dates; we just need clarity from our government leaders because we’re ready,” he added.

When production does resume, overtime and extra shifts will have to wait. While the line can’t move any slower, limited production crews will have to be the norm for a number of weeks to accommodate lengthy disinfecting procedures. All-out production on many shifts is something the company will have to ease into after the course of several weeks.

Will Michigan relent and make Monday, May 18th the beginning of business-as-not-so-usual for members of the Detroit Three? Stay tuned.

[Image: Ford]

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3 of 4 comments
  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Apr 30, 2020

    I am tired reading the same old banalities again and again.

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on May 01, 2020

    Whoa, wait a minute. Ford produces vehicles in China??

    • Lorenzo Lorenzo on May 04, 2020

      Ford has a partnership with Mazda and it's Chinese partner to make the Mazda BZ engine, and another partnership with Jing-Jiang to make the Ford Transit for the Chinese market. All other Ford products sold in China are imported. They were looking into building a Lincoln in China, but needed to develop a stretched wheelbase model first.

  • Jim Bonham Thanks.
  • Luke42 I just bought a 3-row Tesla Model Y.If Toyota made a similar vehicle, I would have bought that instead. I'm former Prius owner, and would have bought a Prius-like EV if it were available.Toyota hasn't tried to compete with the Model Y. GM made the Bolt EUV, and Ford made the Mach-E. Tesla beat them all fair and square, but Toyota didn't even try.[Shrug]
  • RHD Toyota is trying to hedge their bets, and have something for everyone. They also may be farther behind in developing electric vehicles than they care to admit. Japanese corporations sometimes come up with cutting-edge products, such as the Sony Walkman. Large corporations (and not just Japanese corporations) tend to be like GM, though - too many voices just don't get heard, to the long-term detriment of the entity.
  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.