Auction Academy Hits the Assembly Line

By Jeffrey Bellant August 05, 2021 379
 Gerald Reid, Ford employee, installs engines on the Ford F-150 at the River Rouge Complex . Gerald Reid, Ford employee, installs engines on the Ford F-150 at the River Rouge Complex . (Image @ Ford Media)

DEARBORN, Mich. – On Aug. 3, I joined Auction Academy officials and members of its Group 6 class to tour the historic Ford River Rouge Complex and watch workers on the second shift assemble the F-150.

The private event was part of the Auction Academy’s three-day visit to the Motor City. The sixth class heard about Canadian imports and vehicle inspection strategies from Tonya Price of Flint’s Fastlane Auto Exchange, as well as insight from Matt Arias of the National Auto Auction Association. 

The group toured Manheim Detroit with General Manager Noel Kitsch before going to the historic River Rouge factory, first opened in 1918 to build Eagle Boats for the U.S. Navy during World War I.

The factory complex, which at its height had 103,000 workers, has manufactured everything from tractors to the Model A and will produce the upcoming Ford F-150 Lightning.

The Ford Rouge Factory Tour is a popular attraction in Dearborn, and it hosts many school tours. I brought my nephew here more than a decade ago, but it has made some fantastic upgrades.

The tour opens in the Legacy Theater, a massive three-screen theater with seat-rumbling sound, to watch a short but fascinating history of the Ford Motor Co. and the factory.

Later, tour guides brought the group to the Manufacturing Innovation Theater, a newer attraction. This is something you must experience in person.

Using video, “floating 3-D laser projection mapping,” spectacular audio, robots and other special effects, including gusts of wind, it tells the story of the production of the F-150.

The River Rouge Complex, was the largest integrated factory in the world in 1928.

One great segment was the time-lapsed video showing how the plant’s interior was rebuilt as the F-150 shifted from a steel body to aluminum alloy. Old machinery was removed and replaced with new equipment. Ford completed the massive project in eight weeks.

Eight weeks!

The tour moved to the observation deck, looking out over the massive complex. According to the tour notes, the roof of the main factory is “made up of tens of thousands of tiny sedum plants, a perennial groundcover also known as stonecrop. Its main function is to collect and filter rainfall as part of a natural storm water management system.

“The roof is capable of cleaning up to four million gallons of water every year. It also decreases the building’s energy consumption by seven percent and improves air quality by as much as 40 percent.”

The highlight of the experience is an actual tour of the factory floor from an elevated walkway. The 1/3-mile tour takes you through most of the process of assembling the F-150. It was here that Auction Academy class members lit up, asking questions of the tour guides while pointing out different aspects of the manufacturing.

A new F-150 rolls out every minute and each is built according to when it was ordered. So, you might see a red truck, followed by a silver one with a moonroof, followed by a truck with a completely different configuration.

The workers on this line looked a lot different than the ones in the vintage history reels from the Legacy Theater. No dress shirts or ties. This group sported tennis shoes, shorts and baseball caps.

You could spot interesting things, like the assembly of the doors where the workers were mostly women, The tour guide explained smaller hands are needed to do some of the intricate work.

In another area, one young woman slapped decal strips along the side of the truck beds so quickly, and with such precision, I was envious. I couldn’t hang a picture straight if you offered me a free F-150.

The tour guides, who are used to high school students, didn’t realize they had a group of car experts in front of them. Still, they were very informative and answered every question. They seemed to love their jobs.

It was great to meet the Auction Academy class members – several from Texas – and listen to them ask questions about the factory and talk among themselves about what they saw.

Pierre Pons, president of TPC Management, hosted the event, with Penny Wanna, president of Auction Academy.

The Auction Academy, now in its 10th year, is the brainchild of Pons. He expressed his pleasure at the Academy’s success as the next generation of auction managers and leaders continue to fill classes. 

Jiles Wanna, TPC’s vice president of client services was part of the group, as well as TPC’s Brandy McGregor, meeting coordinator for both TPC and the Auction Academy.

Moderator Charlie Vogelheim kept the conversation flowing. 

Also, a hat tip to the caterers, bringing some great local food from Detroit’s Eastern Market and wonderful Polish grub from historic Hamtramck.

Auction Academy’s trip capped off at the hotel the next day with a presentation on conversational sales techniques and leadership from David Walsh.

Group 6 class members will graduate from the program at NAAA’s annual convention in Chicago in September.

All in all, this was a great industry event coming out of the pandemic. This business is a people business and we need to meet face to face.

The event was also a reminder of Ford’s incredible history. The innovation on display is a testament to entrepreneurs and what they can do when they are not constrained. 

Finally, watching Auction Academy’s best and brightest in this setting suggested the future is bright for the auto auction industry.

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Last modified on Thursday, 07 October 2021 04:18