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Ford St. Paul Plant Closes As Brand Evolves

12/19/2011

The last Ranger small pickup truck rolled off the line Friday December 16, closing out an 86-year history of turning out Fords at the assembly plant along the Mississippi River and putting about 800 people out of work.

Sales of the Ranger small pickup peaked in the mid-1990’s and have fallen ever since, hurt by neglect as Ford Motor Co. focused its attention on its line of more profitable large pickups. Can you recall seeing Ford spokesman Mike Rowe hawk the Ranger? Didn’t think so. The Ranger slowly lost its edge in fuel economy and price over Ford’s full-sized pickups, even as the Ranger’s styling grew stale.

The St. Paul plant has produced more than 6 million cars and trucks since 1925. Ford plans to sell a new version of the Ranger outside the U.S., but the trucks will be built in Thailand, South Africa and South America.

My day’s events took me to where the now idle factory sits on the bluffs of the Mississippi yesterday. It’s a beautiful location and will likely be turned into some sort of multi-use development after a few years of cleanup.

What I noticed were people walking around the factories’ exterior grounds. Retired employees (with spouse in tow) viewing the remaining inventory of Rangers through the chain link fence. Walking the bridge over the rail spur to the sprawling railroad yard. Looking over the edge of the bluffs down to the power plant adjacent to the Lock & Dam #1 on the Mississippi.

While it’s difficult to see a factory close and it is definitely unpleasant for many employees who will have difficulty replacing a $28 per hour ($58k a year) gig – this is part of the evolution of a company and its brand. All American auto makers have hit speed bumps since the 1970’s when they were caught with gas guzzlers in a market hand-wringing about gas prices.

What I see in Ford today is a company that has worked to evolve its brand to one centered on quality. Drive one and you’ll be convinced that Ford has made big strides in terms of innovation, understanding what the customer wants and, of course, quality. The folks at Ford have taken the responsibility of brand evolution seriously. It’s a simple proposition, evolve or perish. Too bad so many other American brands don’t have leadership that sees this proposition as simply or with the same sense of urgency the folks at Ford have.

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