Ford CEO positive but has no news about Kansas City plant

Thursday, September 16, 2010 | 8:53 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally told a crowd of business and government leaders Thursday that he's committed to Missouri but doesn't have any news about a new product line for the Claycomo assembly plant near Kansas City.

There had been speculation that Mulally might make news when he spoke during a gathering of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and during a separate economic development conference in Kansas City. The meeting came about two months after Missouri lawmakers approved a tax break aimed at enticing Ford to continue making vehicles at the suburban Kansas City plant, which employs about 3,700 people.

"I know that news is all out there, so I'm going to say it one more time, 'No new product announcement today,'" Mulally told the crowd at the Chamber of Commerce event.

Union officials have said Ford will quit making sport utility models at Claycomo by the end of next year. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has said he would like to see a new, modernized vehicle built at the plant.

Mulally complimented the automaker incentives approved during a special legislative session. The bill, aimed primarily at helping the Claycomo plant, will let manufacturers keep employee withholding taxes they normally would pay Missouri if they improve their factories for new or expanded product lines.

"What the governor has done to improve competitiveness and improve the business climate is fantastic," Mulally told reporters, while headed from the Chamber of Commerce gathering to the economic development event. "And we are absolutely committed with Gov. Nixon to grow our business right here."

Nixon told reporters Thursday that Mulally's comments reflected a change from six or eight months ago when there was talk of the Claycomo plant closing or losing a line.

"I want to tell you that as they make these decisions about the placement of their products that we have put ourselves in a very strong position," Nixon said. "I think we are in the position to build one of their vehicles of the future right here in Kansas City."

Mulally declined to comment on the timing of the decision, and Nixon said all he knew about the schedule was that Claycomo was at the front of the list to get a new product.

"Our people get there early, they stay late, they do the job," Nixon said. "As governor, I firmly believe that Missouri will always be an automotive state in an automotive nation."

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