Ford Motor Co. shows off its new truck plant in Dearborn, MI, a $2 billion investment expected to help open a new era in manufacturing for the auto maker.

Ford's first new North American assembly plant in 16 years will be the third to launch output of the all-new '04 F-Series pickup truck, following plants in Virginia and Missouri.

All three facilities will be flexible. But while Norfolk and Kansas City will be designed to build two different platforms, Dearborn is being tooled to produce up to three distinct platforms and nine models.

Although the flexibility accommodates diverse platforms on the same line, it appears more likely that the flexibility would be used to produce similar vehicles — such as F-Series, Explorer and Ranger — together. However, Ford officials are mum on when a second platform could be added to the Dearborn plant.

Initially, the plant will build just two versions of the new F-Series — Super Cab and Super Crew, which Ford expects to fill up Dearborn's 2-shift, 250,000-unit annual capacity.

The initial tooling costs 10%-15% less than conventional non-flexible systems, Ford says. And 80% of the entire operation will be reusable when Ford retools to a new model.

Job One for the plant, the cornerstone of an expansive renovation to Ford's 85-year-old Rouge complex, is set for summer 2004.