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Area Ford plant could be site for new model assembly

By Justin Boron

jboron@news-daily.com

The Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant in Hapeville, where about 2,100 workers put together the Taurus, is upgrading its assembly equipment and could be getting another model of car, said a Ford dealer and an official familiar with the company's plans.

Rumors had surfaced recently about the possibility. But few people could say for sure.

Loretta Lepore, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, declined to comment, saying the department wouldn't discuss business transactions in which it is currently involved.

Anne Booker, a regional spokeswoman for Ford Motor Company, also declined to comment.

But an official familiar with Ford's plans, who would only speak on the subject anonymously, said the rumors weren't entirely out of the ballpark.

"Where there's smoke, there's fire," the official said.

Any announcement of a new car would not come earlier than six months from now, the official said.

Dennis Kerce, the general manager for Allan Vigil Ford in Morrow, also said the company was going to add another car to the plant.

He said the assembly process at the plant would be upgraded to change over quickly from one model to the next so that multiple cars could be built within a shift.

The plant, Kerce said, is in a difficult position with no supplier park to feed the plant the parts for the cars. The addition of a new car, likely a Lincoln, would be an attempt by the company to thwart that problem and keep the plant active, he said.

At the same time, all the buzz for the new car could amount to nothing.

It wouldn't be the first time the idea for a new car at the plant had hit the rumor mill and fizzled.

In the past few years since Ford announced it would eventually retire the Taurus, plans for the plant, which produced 197,842 of the car in 2004, have been up in the air.

Noise that the plant would pick up sport wagons or Lincoln sedans had surfaced in 2003. But Lepore said it was too far below the radar to get any official recognition.

Amid all the talk, Ford has moved up three cars to replace the Taurus from a marketing and sales standpoint, industry experts say.

The Ford Five Hundred, the Freestyle sport wagon, and the Ford Fusion would fill the Taurus' presence in the market.

Kerce said he would have the Fusion on his floor as early as September this year.

Meanwhile, he said the Taurus would be relegated to rental and corporate fleets.

If a new car does come to the plant, Jack Hancock, the chairman of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, said it would be good for the county.

Any increase in the jobs for the area - which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the metro region - Hancock said would be a bright sign for economic development.

And even if it doesn't bring jobs, the publicity could generate excitement and business interest in the area.

Introduced in December 1985 as a 1986 model, Ford sold nearly 7 million Tauruses in its 20 years of production.

The car had a minor update in 1992 and a major redesign in 1996, followed by a minor update in 2000. Between 1992 to 1996, the Taurus was the best-selling car in the United States but lost the title in 1997.