North American Int’l Auto ShowDETROIT– Ford Motor Co. confirms it will build the new Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX (Aviator replacement) cross/utility vehicles in Oakville, Ont., Canada.

The auto maker is investing C$1 billion ($820 million) to transform the Oakville assembly plant that makes minivans, and the shuttered Ontario Truck plant that used to make F-150 pickups, into a single flexible campus.

The 5.4 million-sq.-ft. (486,000-sq.-m) complex will continue to employ about 4,000.

Jim Padilla, Ford president and chief operating officer, says Oakville was chosen because it is the right size to make the conversion to the new CUVs.

He says the workforce has proven itself (during retooling for the minivans), and there was cooperation from the Canadian and Ontario governments.

’07 Ford Edge

Ford is contributing C$800 million ($654 million) to the project, and each level of government is chipping in C$100 million ($82 million).(See related story: Ford Commits C$1 Billion for Oakville Assembly Complex )

Bill Osborne, Ford of Canada Ltd. president and CEO, says Oakville becomes Ford’s most flexible plant, going a step beyond other flexible facilities such as the refurbished Dearborn plant.

Dearborn still has hard tooling on some subassemblies, Osborne says. The goal with Oakville is soft tooling for easy changeover.

The auto maker expects 75% of its 19 assembly operations in North America will be flexible by the end of the decade. Oakville will be number seven.

The Edge and MKX, which share the CD3 platform that also underpins the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr midsize sedans, will launch production simultaneously in the fourth quarter and go on sale by the end of the year.

Volume will be weighted toward the Edge, Osborne says, especially early in the ramp-up.

The MKX becomes the first volume Lincoln to be built in Canada.

Osborne says there are no plans to add a Mercury CUV at this time.

The facility will continue to build the Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey minivans, Osborne says.

The next-generation minivans are expected to ride on the CD3 platform as well.

Adding the CUVs “solidifies the future of the Oakville complex for many years to come,” Osborne says, making it possible to build as many as four different models from the same basic architecture and react to market shifts without a huge investment or downtime.

He declines to say if additional shifts will be returned to the plant that has been reduced to one shift due to slow minivan sales.

Padilla, who expects “substantial volume” from the new CUVs, also would not commit on additional shifts.

apriddle@primediabusiness.com