The Detroit automakers are largely forgoing the traditional two-week summer break at their factories and speeding up production to meet buyers' growing demand for new cars and trucks.
Ford Motor Co. said Wednesday that 21 of its North American factories will shut for only one week this summer. That includes the Chicago plant that makes the Ford Explorer SUV and the plant in Mexico where the Fusion sedan is made.
The three Detroit carmakers traditionally shut factories for 14 days around July 4 to do maintenance and change the machinery for new models. But they don't have that luxury this year. U.S. demand for new cars and trucks has been strong, up 7 percent through April, led by soaring demand for full-size pickup trucks as home construction rebounds. And after closing more than two dozen factories during the recession, U.S. automakers need to use their remaining capacity to its fullest.
James Tetrault, Ford's vice president of North American manufacturing, said that a decade ago Ford had to idle factories because each only made one vehicle. If demand waned for that vehicle, the company needed to cut production. Now it has flexible plants that make multiple vehicles on the same assembly line. If the Taurus sedan is selling slowly, for example, Ford can quickly switch over and make more Explorer SUVs at the same plant.
Workers' pay isn't impacted by the changes, since the shutdowns are paid vacations.