Right in the midst of a January sales boom, North American auto plants lost production of some 47,600 cars and trucks due mainly to winter storm-related plant closings. On the plus side, production planners have been able to reschedule a large part of the storm losses in February and March, although some truck plants — already operating on heavy overtime — won't be able to recoup shortfalls as quickly (see complete schedule p.6).

Ford Motor Co., which lost some 18,700 units due to January's storm-related closings, planned to recover most of that loss in February and March. But still to be reckoned with are the effects of Feb. 1's major explosion that shut down Ford's huge Rouge (Dearborn, MI) manufacturing and assembly complex for most of the week.

Ward's estimates the deadly industrial accident at the Rouge complex — killing two and injuring 20 others — cost the automaker about 7,003 units in lost production. The explosion, linked to a boiler, idled 10,000 workers at the complex's five factories that make engines, windshields, frames and body and underside panels.

The accident forced the automaker to juggle its manufacturing operations at its North American assembly plants to avoid major shutdowns. Ford expects to return to full production this week.

A Ward's analysis shows that Ford lost production of 5,017 cars, including 3,090 Mustangs. Also in the tally were 1,986 trucks, including some 1,135 F-Series pickups.

The losses could have been greater but Ford slowed production at more than a dozen plants to conserve parts. Production resumed at the Rouge last Thursday at a slightly slower rate as Ford was able to purchase electric power from DTE Energy Co., a holding company for Detroit Edison, and CMS Energy, parent company of Consumers Energy. The Rouge power plant was due to be replaced by a new $240 million generator, jointly owned by DTE and CMS, expected to be completed by late summer.

Ford, however, still has been unable to operate its stamping plant at normal output, forcing the company to halt production of the Lincoln Town Car and Continental at its Wixom, MI plant. With the stamping plant running on generators, Ford made the decision to send any parts that could be made to St. Thomas, where the Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis are built, and short change Wixom.

Meanwhile, General Motors Corp. also suffered storm losses to the tune of 15,000 vehicles in January, and it, too, plans to recover much of that in February and March. Even more critical to GM is the need to boost light truck output, especially that of its all-new large pickups that have been in short supply since last summer's strike hampered changeover plans.

As it now stands, planned output in January-March is 12,100 units under the level set a month ago, with vehicle producers hiking output in February by 19,200 and in March by 16,300. Some of the gain is in response to the January losses, although some of the increase is among heavy truck manufacturers and automakers not directly affected by the January storms. Indeed, truck output for the quarter is up nearly 16,000 units from where it was a month ago, while car output is down 28,000.

Ford Production Losses
Plant Vehicles Hours
Ontario Truck F-Series 50 6 291
St. Thomas, Ont. Crown Victoria/Gr. Marquis 100 6 349
Dearborn Mustang 100 84 3,090
Edison Ranger/B-series 100 6 199
Kansas City Truck F-Series 100 10 496
Lorain Econoline/Club Wagon 100 8 392
Norfolk F-Series 100 10 348
Twin Cities Ranger 100 6 260
Wayne Escort/Tracer 80 12 407
Wixon Lincolns 80 59 1,171
*Ward's estimates. CAR 161 5,017
TRUCK 46 1,986
VEHICLE 207 7,003

Mexico domestic car output is down 21,000 units for the quarter in response to weakening sales following the re-imposition of a national auto sales tax that had been suspended two years ago.