A production rush created too many problems.
The redesigned 2020 Ford Explorer will play a major role in the automaker's sales, just like its predecessors. Its corporate cousin, the Lincoln Aviator, is also set to make up a significant chunk of the premium brand's bottom line. Unfortunately, early production got off to a rocky start, as we reported in September. Issues involving faulty seats, loose wiring harnesses, and displays with faulty software were discovered after the completed SUVs left Ford's Chicago factory. Instead of being sent to dealerships, most were transported to the Flat Rock plant near Detroit where workers identified and fixed "a series of complicated problems." It was not the ideal rollout and Ford dealerships confirmed delivery delays due to "manufacturing issues."
Today, a new report from the Detroit News claims the Blue Oval has resolved 2020 Explorer and Aviator production issues and is now preparing for a proper rollout. "This is a rarity," said Joe Hinrichs, Ford's president of automotive. "We took on a lot more than we have before. It was too much for that plant to take on."
In other words, Ford tried to do too much, too fast for a vital product. They paid a price for this. The launch slowdown contributed towards a 50 percent drop in Explorer sales in the third quarter of this year. But fortunately, all of the above problems associated with both the Explorer and Aviator were fixed before they hit showrooms, so owners will remain unaffected.
Why was Ford forced to do quality control inspections and all necessary repairs at Flat Rock instead of Chicago where the SUVs are built? Because there was a lack of space at the Chicago facility, which is now up and running as originally planned. All Chicago production problems have now been fully resolved.
Some industry analysts, however, say the Chicago plant's retooling – a $1 billion project – should not have caused production problems and delays. While this was a major renovation project "this is Ford. They should know how to do this by now, and this isn't the first time that you've had some substantial changeover at a plant," said one analyst.
While the plant was being renovated, line workers were trained off-site and once construction was done, three shifts near maximum capacity began almost immediately. Associated problems quickly followed. Switching back to a rear-wheel-drive layout instead of the outgoing Explorer's front-wheel-drive setup is a very complicated process, and Chicago's 5,000 workers had to quickly adapt.
Ford now faces the challenge of making up for lost sales time and Hinrichs estimates the company was off by around 13,000 wholesale units last quarter. Above all, quality control has stabilized and a new era for the Explorer and Aviator can now properly get underway.