Fuel-efficient engines, transmissions boost jobs in Ohio, Ind.

By Roger Kerson

“When I took this job in 2008,” says Mike Gammella, president of UAW Local 1250 in Brook Park, Ohio, “we had the foundry announced to be closed, and Engine Plant #1 had 66 people. It looked like we were vanishing.”

But instead of vanishing, Ford’s Cleveland Engine Plant #1 is now gaining $200 million in new investment, hundreds of new jobs, and a hot-selling new engine: the 2.0 liter EcoBoost, which powers several Ford vehicles and up until now has been produced exclusively in Valencia, Spain.

A similar story is unfolding in Indiana, where Chrysler is investing $374 million to build 8 and 9-speed transmissions. Some 1,250 jobs will be added at a Kokomo facility that was nearly closed, and at a second plant in Tipton, Indiana that was built by a supplier firm several years ago but never occupied.

Rather than rely on supplier firms, both companies have decided to manufacture core powertrain products required to meet new fuel economy requirements in house and in the United States.

“There was a burning desire within our own house to take as much control as possible over our own destiny,” said Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne when the company announced its Indiana investment in February.

A comeback in Cleveland: After hitting bottom in 2008, employment at Engine Plant #1 has rebounded to over 1,000 workers, after consolidating with a nearby engine facility. Jobs began coming back as workers were assigned to build the popular 3.5 and 3.7 liter EcoBoost engines, a fuel-saving option on Ford’s best-selling F150 pick-up truck.

“I was a bit skeptical when I heard they were going to put a six-cylinder engine in an F-150,” recalls Gammella. “I’m a truck guy and I thought this was going to be a disaster. But it gets just as much power, and you’ve got much better fuel efficiency. It turned out to be a huge seller.”

Forty-two percent of Ford F-150 customers now select the EcoBoost engine; the company is selling more of them per month than it expected to sell in a year.

With Ford’s February announcement that it will to add production of a 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder engine to the Ohio facility, the company expects to add 450 workers over the next two years to staff a two-shift operation. And plant manager Charlie Binger told the Cleveland Plain Dealer there’s a “great possibility” of adding a third shift, depending on product demand, which would result in several hundred additional hires.

“We’re ecstatic to get this kind of product,” Gammella said. “It’s a bread-and-butter engine, so it’s very good news for the long-term future of this facility.”

The 2.0 liter EcoBoost is used in 2013 models of the Ford Edge, Escape, Explorer, Focus ST, Fusion and Taurus. Using direct fuel injection and turbo-charging to improve fuel efficiency, the engine delivers highway fuel economy gains ranging from 14 percent on the Focus ST to 47 percent on the Ford Explorer. Shifting production for the North American market from its current location in Spain, company officials say, will lower shipping costs and give Ford more flexibility to supply dealers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Insourcing to Indiana: With new investments in Kokomo and Tipton, Chrysler expects to grow its northern Indiana workforce to over 7,350 workers, a 20 percent increase from current headcount of 6,100. When completed, the two plants will comprise the largest transmission installation in the world, say Chrysler officials.

Transmissions with eight or nine speeds‚ an increase from the five or six speeds found in most of today’s vehicles‚ cause engines to operate more frequently in their optimal speed ranges, yielding higher fuel economy. Chrysler has already installed eight-speed transmission in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Charger.

Gammella, who has been a strong advocate for bringing new technology to Ford’s Cleveland Engine plant, joined business, environmental and government leaders last year at a White House conference on advanced vehicles. “It’s fabulous whenever you get to go to the White House,” he says. “We had a good discussion, the U.S. has some great minds working on this.”

The EcoBoost engine is an example of what can be accomplished, says Gammella, saving consumers money, improving environmental quality, and creating jobs in the process. “The fuel economy is fabulous,” he says. “It has less impact on the environment; it’s a much cleaner engine.”

Roger Kerson is a Michigan-based media consultant for labor unions and environmental organizations. He was formerly the director of public relations at the United Auto Workers.

Photo: Rod Deichler, left, and Toddy Riley working on the fuel efficient Ecoboost engine at Ford’s Cleveland Engine Plant.