Ford Motor Co. is planning at least one new vehicle for its Atlanta Assembly plant following the departure of the Taurus and Sable as early as next year, union officials confirm to Ward's.

The plant's United Auto Workers Local 882 Chairman Mitch Smith has informed workers that Ford plans to replace the Taurus and Sable with a new vehicle to be built there sometime after the '05 model year and possibly as soon as 2006.

Ford will not confirm the end date of Taurus/Sable production and union officials do not know which vehicle is slated to go to Atlanta. Ford still is working out contract issues with the UAW, as well as ironing out an incentive package with the State of Georgia for plant modifications.

That Ford is planning future vehicles for Atlanta quiets rumors the plant's days are numbered.

Currently, Ford is building vehicles mostly intended for fleet use on two 10-hour shifts.

Ford likely will at least partially convert Atlanta's footprint into a flexible operation. Ford wants 50% of its plants flexible by 2005 and 75% by 2010. A Ford spokeswoman tells Ward's not all plants in the target will be fully flexible, or capable of building a multitude of top hats off a variety of platforms, but they will have some degree of flexibility.

Meanwhile, Ford's Wixom (MI) Assembly Plant's future is in doubt as reports suggest Ford will build two new Lincoln vehicles in Atlanta off the Ford Five Hundred/Freestyle platform. Ford currently builds the Lincoln LS and Town Car in Wixom.

The Ford spokeswoman, however, says Wixom is part of Ford's “long-term plans.”