Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the status of Ford’s Oakville facility. We regret the error.
Ford Motor Co. announced it will cut 450 jobs at its Oakville assembly plant in Ontario, Canada, as a result of the discontinuation of Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT production. The vehicles don’t fit in with the company’s shift toward sport-utilities and pickup trucks.
The company has already halted production of the Lincoln MKT while Ford Flex production will continue into November, according to Ford spokesperson Kelli Felker. The plant, which will employ 4,100 after the after planned cuts, also produces the Ford Edge and Lincoln Aviator.
The move has Unifor, formerly the Canadian Auto Workers union, calling for new product for the plant. The company has already cut 200 employees last month. Potential new product allocations will be negotiated during new contract negotiations between the automaker and the union next year.
“New or expanded vehicle allocation is urgently needed to prevent permanent job loss at the Ford Oakville plant,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias.
In the meantime, Ford is offering up a fine send off for the unique-looking boxy crossover that polarized potential buyers since it was introduced in 2008.
“Flex broke the mold. It had both crossover and minivan elements in a hip, trendy package that stood out from what was becoming a really boring minivan segment,” said Chris Kessler, Ford Flex marketing manager.
“Its design traced its roots to the traditional family station wagons that many of our customers remember growing up with, but it brought forward modern sport/utility design elements and features both parents and kids loved.”
That love-it-or-hate-it design was created by designers with backgrounds in fashion instead of cars and trucks.
Its interior was created by Ford interior designer Anthony Prozzi, who worked in the New York fashion industry. He and his team brought in quilted leather seating surfaces and mahogany inserts in the door panels that resembled the surface of a beautiful roll-top desk. For a time, Flex also could be ordered with a real refrigerator in the console between the second-row seats.
Introduced in 2005 as the Ford Fairlane concept, it started life in 2008 and through the course of its 11-year run, Ford sold more than 296,000 units overall of its unconventional crossover wagon. It and the MKT have seen the numbers fall consistently during the past two years, although they’ve rallied this year with sales of the Flex up 13.5% and the MKT up 74.5%.
In 2013, the federal and provincial governments made an investment of approximately $140 million in the Oakville plant and Unifor negotiated a further $100 million in upgrades in 2016. All the more reason to put a product in the Oakville plant, say union leaders.
“For months Unifor has been urging Ford to come up with a plan to avoid this scenario. Ford was aware the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT were coming to the end of their production life-cycle,” said Dave Thomas, President of Unifor Local 707. Like its U.S. siblings, Unifor will get a chance to push for new product during contract negotiations, which will take place next year.