This is the article I was talking about...
The Demise of Lorain Assembly,
Three and a Half Years Later
March 1997......the words were as chilling as ice. An announcement, made just after profit sharing, would change many lives forever. Ford Motor Company's decision to squash two popular, classic nameplates was a shock to all. For some, it was the end of many chapters of their lives; for about 600 others, it was a new beginning in an unknown state, a beginning they would have never chosen.
The workers, many faithful to Ford Motor for more than half of their lives, were told that the Thunderbird/Cougar line was officially rendered discontinued. Where would the workers go? Just which workers would get to transfer to commercial and build Econoline vans? Would Ford bring a new product in, to take the place of the soon-to-be defunct T-bird/Cougar?
In the wake of the announcement, Ford officials had stated that Lorain Assembly was on "warm idle" status. When questioned, they defined "warm idle" as meaning that there was a great chance that another product would replace the empty lines. On the other hand, Ford officials were quoted as saying, in a meeting with almost 1600 employees, that they "Could close ALL North American plants, and it wouldn't cost Ford a cent". That's a pretty harsh statement, when a person considers the effect just one shutdown had on many people.
Following the news, the town of Lorain and its outlying areas were torn apart. The men and women who would relocate made plans to find housing and toured Louisville, KY with their families to get used to this place they would now call "home". The employees who were fortunate enough to remain in Lorain couldn't help but feel sympathetic towards those who were being displaced, and those who didn't have a job at all.
The town of Lorain pulled together in an attempt to get Ford to change their mind. Then-mayor Joseph Koziura even had a meeting with FoMoCo Execs, promising tax-breaks for the plant if they would reconsider. People begged and pleaded with Ford, explaining the hardships this would create. These workers had devoted so much of their lives to Ford, and this is what they would get in return. All the efforts were in vain. Ford's decision was going to stick, no matter how many families and individuals it destroyed.
In the last months of the Thunderbird/Cougar epic, strange things happened. Many walked around in a trance-like state, hoping that the announcement was just a bad dream, longing for the moment they would be awakened. Others scurried about to buy a T-bird or Cougar, some even traveling out of state to make the purchase. Was it to buy a piece of history? To own a token of the fall of Lorain Assembly? Or was it yet another shot at changing Ford's decision.....an effort to show them that the cars still had sales potential? Nobody will ever know for sure. Just weeks before the final cars rolled off the line, Jim Bass, owner of Mike Bass Ford in nearby Avon Lake, was quoted as saying "These things are selling like hotcakes.....I can't get enough of them to meet the demand. People are really going after these cars". Not bad for a couple of cars that had no profit to offer Ford.
Meanwhile, there was much speculation about the plant. Workers heard a myriad of myths, ranging from the scaled down Explorer, now known as the Escape, to the redesigned Thunderbird, coming to Lorain for a production run. They wondered and waited. Those who were displaced (a majority of them were relocated to Louisville, KY) hoped a new product would enable them to return to the only homes they have ever known. Sadly, three and a half years later, it has not happened.
There are some very unpleasant facts about the Lorain saga. It is a little known fact that Lorain Assembly was #2 in quality in the world. Yes, you read it right.....the WORLD! Industry analysts blamed lagging sales, along with a delay in redesign for the demise of the Ford cousins. Others tried to reason the lack of demand for rear-wheel drive vehicles. All of the above statements are completely untrue. Look at the Mustang. The car ran on the same platform from 1979-1993, and when it was redesigned, it contained virtually the same chassis.
The Mustang is a very popular rear-drive car.....if there was no demand for RWD, wouldn't Mustang sales have slipped as well? Another interesting fact is that in both 1996 and 1997, The Thunderbird and Cougar outsold their Chevrolet competition, the Lumina and Monte Carlo. Case in point, lagging sales were not the problem. In a sense, Ford turned over their entire mid-size market to Chevrolet and Chrysler. Do the pieces of this puzzle fit?
In 1999, a rumor (that I adamantly believe) began circulating in the very quiet Lorain Assembly plant. Somehow, the workers were informed that the Thunderbird/Cougar line was squashed to set an example. You see, in 1997, the workers were hesitant to sign the new contract that had been put together for them. They wanted more than was being offered, hence, they were reluctant to agree. The union, bargaining committee, etc, were up in arms to get everyone to sign on the dotted line. Ford didn't like this, needless to say. Apparently, the lines were ceased to "prove a point". To show what Ford "could do". The integration of a multi-million dollar paint shop had hopes high, but it's like Ford put it there to tease. Doesn't it all fit? Number two in quality, two cars that had slightly lagging sales but were still competitive in the market, state-of-the-art paint building....kind of makes you think... doesn't it?
It has been nearly four years since that fateful announcement. Lorain has gone through many changes in the years following the demise of Lorain Assembly. While there are still familiar sights and sounds, you can tell something is missing. The town isn't the happy-go-lucky place it once was. The blow that Ford dealt hit hard, and the wound is still fresh. Many people still have hope that prosperity will return to Lorain, while others remain sullen and pessimistic when it comes to Ford. I doubt that Ford knows, or even cares for that matter, what they have done.
Walking through the Lorain Assembly plant is horribly depressing. When one walks in the main entrance, where once sat a fleet of completed Ford Thunderbirds/Mercury Cougars, there is nothing but darkness and an empty (yet capable) assembly line. Where people used to laugh, friends used to talk, and cars used to reach the line's end, there is just an old assembly line. It saddens me when I reflect on all the smiling faces I used to see upon entrance. I have to wonder to myself just how many of those workers who would greet me are no longer there.
The one thing that really irks me, is the mistruths that Ford conveys to its remaining workforce. Ford, as a company, really needs to stop lying to these poor men and women. The workers are in a denial of sorts. You can see it in their tired faces! These people are holding on to every chance that a new product will come in. Hoping it will bring back the old faces they were accustomed to, even some new faces, just to put some "spirit" back into the place. They long for the day that they can look at the old T-bird/Cougar line and see a new product.....not a constant reminder of how much Ford really cares for its workforce. FoMoCo needs to either put a new product in place, or stop the run-around. It's taking its toll on the town, the people, and those Lorain Assembly workers who have been through their own private hell, yet strive to be the best they can be.
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