TBT: As Chicago Assembly Plant Turns 100, This Is the Vehicle It’s Most Known For Producing

Mar 21, 2024

The history of Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant, the company’s longest continually operating vehicle assembly plant, dates back to the Model T. That transformative universal car was at the tail end of its nearly 20-year production run when the plant opened in 1924. The plant has also housed production of some other iconic Ford models in the past century, including the Model T, Model A, Thunderbird and Explorer, but it is likely best known as the home of the Ford Taurus, which saw more than 34 years of near-continuous production there.

Chicago Assembly, located along the Calumet River in South Chicago, replaced a previous production facility built just a decade earlier. The proximity to the river, which flows into Lake Michigan, was important because the waterways were used to ship materials at the time. The plant has been updated several times in its history. 

Despite the big nameplates that had been in production at CAP, Taurus, introduced in 1985 alongside its Mercury counterpart, Sable, would go on to be the plant’s first local bestseller after the Model T. The plant underwent a significant modernization to accommodate the vehicles, which would be built there for nearly 20 consecutive years from that point on. 

The overhaul, fueled by a $200 million investment, resulted in what was called “one of the most computerized, most robotized, most automated automobile assembly plants in the world,” in a Ford press release. Production of the Taurus and Sable had begun nearly six months earlier, and Ford’s Atlanta plant and the updates in Chicago would help bring production output of the popular new vehicles to 500,000 annually – meaning that, between the two plants, one Taurus or Sable was being built every 30 seconds. 

With its sleek aerodynamic styling, Taurus, another innovative product like the Model T, was named MotorTrend’s Car of the Year in 1986. Within two years, Ford was regularly selling more than 350,000 Taurus models per year – it was America’s best-selling car for five years beginning in 1992 – and continued moving more than 300,000 every year until the early 2000s. More than eight million of the cars were built at Chicago Assembly Plant – the nameplate was briefly discontinued in 2006 before being revived as an all-new product in 2007, a move announced at the Chicago Auto Show.

Taurus returns

Upon its return to the Ford lineup, the Taurus was built exclusively in Chicago. The last Ford Taurus for North American consumers rolled off the line at Chicago Assembly Plant in 2019, as Ford overhauled its product lineup for the region. The last years of Taurus production – Sable was discontinued with the dissolution of the Mercury brand – coincided with the introduction of the Ford Explorer at the plant. The SUV has now been assembled there for almost 15 years. 

In 2019, Ford invested $1 billion in both CAP, and Chicago Stamping Plant to expand capacity to build the Explorer, Police Interceptor Utility and Lincoln Aviator, which are still built there today.

Chicago Assembly Plant, which marked its 100th anniversary earlier this month, continues to be an integral piece of Ford’s manufacturing operations with the flexibility to continue adapting to any changes the future may bring.

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