Ford and United Auto Workers officials Wednesday morning drove the symbolic first unit of its new F-650/750 series off the line at its Ohio Assembly Plant near Avon Lake amid cheers that followed congratulatory speeches.
The first truck, a bright red F-650 with a Triton gasoline V-10 engine, represents the “toughest, smartest and best value” available among 2016 medium-duty trucks, Ford's marketing line says.
“These trucks were designed and tested by Ford engineers,” said John Ruppert, general manager of commercial vehicle sales and marketing, in a briefing for reporters prior to the ceremony. “It underwent harsh testing, testing so hard that people didn’t want to drive them, so we migrated to robot drivers.
“It’s very upfit friendly with a clean back of cab to rear of frame. And we’re back to having a Class 7 tractor, and we didn’t have one for several years.”
Announced last year and featured at truck shows since then, the series has a new chassis, nose and all-Ford powertrain featuring an upgraded 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 diesel and TorqShift 6-speed automatic transmission.
No manual transmissions are offered because “there’s little demand for them,” Ruppert said. As before, the gasoline V-10 is available in the F-650 and now in the F-750.
Dropping the Cummins ISB6.7 diesel and Allison automatic transmission saves customers money and allows engineers to concentrate on and perfect their own components so that they can be backed by a 5-year, 250,000-mile warranty, he said.
Cabs and their interiors, with some freshening, are carried over from the previous models. As with most Ford conventionals, they’re available in two-door Regular and four-door SuperCab and CrewCab versions.
Work on the medium-duty project at the plant began earlier this summer with training for workers. About 450 of the 1,400 workers at the plant are involved in F-650/750 production and additional hiring is expected late this year, a UAW official said.
Until June, the F-650 and F-750 were assembled at a Navistar plant in Mexico under the now-ended Blue Diamond joint venture. Bringing assembly of the products to the United States is important to the company, the UAW’s members, and the regional economy, speakers at the event said.
Ford and UAW officials negotiated the move back in 2011, when plans for dropping of the E-series vans were announced and the end of the Blue Diamond agreement with Navistar was in sight. Production efficiencies were nailed down, $168 million invested in tooling and equipment, and tax incentives secured to make the switch financially feasible.
Workers' ability to build quality products was among the key considerations, officials said. The E-series cargo van has been discontinued and replaced by the Transit van, made in Kansas City, but workers at the Ohio plant still assemble E-series cutaways and stripped chassis.
“The workers at this plant – you’ve earned this,” declared U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “You’ve earned it through your hard work.”
“You workers,” said Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, “you deserve a round of applause,” and she then led it. “You work hard every day. You make us proud.”
“I want to point out the National Championship college football team (Ohio State)," said Greg Drudi, a UAW official and Ohio native, with a smile. “And this," he said, gesturing toward a nearby F-750, "is the National Championship truck.”
The F-650 and F-750 are Ford’s heaviest models. Its line of trucks stretches down to its Class 1 F-150 pickup, for the widest range of commercial trucks in the industry, Ruppert said. Ford’s market share in those classes is the highest in the U.S. at 46.5%, up 1.6 points from last year, he noted, and “We outsell and out register our four nearest competitors combined.”