Fire at Meridian Magnesium Products Factory Halts Production for Ford and Other Automakers

The F-Series pickup truck is not only Ford’s top-selling vehicle, it’s currently the top-selling vehicle in the United States. Several years ago, Ford redesigned the F-150 to optimize for lighter weight, and this involved adding some magnesium to the body. Unfortunately for Ford, magnesium burns hot and is difficult to extinguish.

On May 2nd, Ford supplier Meridian Magnesium Products experience an explosion and a fire that severely damaged its main plant in Rapids, Michigan, outside of Lansing. The company makes structural parts, about one-third of which are supplied to Ford. Other automakers also rely on the plant to produce lighter-weight parts that meet fuel efficiency standards.

Because of the fire, Ford has stopped production at its Kansas City plant, and has announced it may need to halt production at its Dearborn, Michigan plant this week, since it has only enough material in stock to operate until Thursday. The work stoppage has caused the temporary layoff of 7,600 workers.

Employees at the Dearborn truck plant (DTP) received a letter from Burkie Morris, UAW president and chairman at the facility.

“The company is meeting continuously to find a solution to replace and manufacturer [sic] parts that were lost due to the fire at Meridian,” wrote Morris. “According to the company, at some point, we will have an interruption in production. At this time, the company doesn’t know for sure when or for how long we will be down. As a result of the fire, there is a great deal of uncertainty in our production schedule at DTP. Adjustments and changes are being made hour by hour as the company is engaged in getting the parts needed to maintain our normal production schedule.”

In April of this year, Ford built 29,572 trucks at the Kansas City plant and 31,482 trucks at the Dearborn facility, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The parts shortage caused by the fire is also said to be disrupting the supply chain for Fiat Chrysler and General Motors, as well. Fiat will feel the pain most at its Windsor, Ontario facility that produces the Chrysler Pacifica minivan. That plant employs more than 6,000 workers. Additionally, Mercedes Benz has announced that it will shut down production of SUVs at its plant in Vance, Alabama because of the parts shortage caused by the Meridian fire.

Fire officials in Eaton Rapids have said that Meridian Magnesium plans to rebuild and reopen the plant within four months. The cause of the fire is still unclear. Meanwhile, USA Today is reporting that the Meridian plant has a history of safety violations.

The fire comes at the wrong time for Ford, which is adjusting to other new changes at the company, including the controversial decision to cease production of 80 percent of its passenger car offerings within a few years.