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Ford cites Chicago plant's successes at Auto Show preview

The Ford Shelby 500 GT is introduced during the 2012 Chicago Auto Show media preview at McCormick Place Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Ford Motor Co. executives said Wednesday that investments in the Torrence Avenue assembly plant are paying off for its business and local hiring.

The company has received orders from 40 state and local governments in Illinois for its 2013 Police Interceptors, executives said at a Chicago Auto Show preview.

Also at the show’s media event, Ford unveiled a new muscle version of the Mustang, the Shelby GT500 convertible.

Orders for the Interceptor have come from the Cook County sheriff’s police and Illinois state police, said communications director Mike Moran. The police vehicles are made at the Southeast Side plant.

Suburbs such as Itasca, Elmhurst, Winnetka and Chicago Ridge also are buying the vehicle. But Moran said no order has arrived from the city of Chicago.

Adding the Interceptor to the Torrence plant’s lineup has enabled it to add a third shift. Ford is hiring 1,200 people for the shift, adding to the 3,700 already at the plant.

Lisa Teed, marketing manager for the Interceptor, said she’s anxious to hear from Chicago. “We have responded to the bid spec request, and I’m sure they are evaluating it,” she said.

A spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city is evaluating bids for police cars from dealers representing Ford and other makes. He said the city will conduct a reverse auction seeking successively lower bids before it makes a decision.

There had been concerns that because of union restrictions, most of the new hires in Chicago would be transferees from closed plants. Moran, however, said only 100 are from a closed plant in the Twin Cities. He said 135 have been hired and that Ford is reviewing applicants for the remaining positions.

Moran said Ford has cut off acceptance of more applications.

The Interceptor has been built since January. It joins the Ford Taurus and Explorer and Lincoln MKS as the plant’s products.

The police vehicle is offered in two versions: a sedan that’s a modified Taurus and an SUV that’s a modified Explorer. Teed said the difference goes beyond the paint job; the police versions, she said, have heavy-duty mechanical components that Ford doesn’t even sell to the general public.

Teed said the cars are a re-imagining of the old Ford Crown Victoria, for years a law enforcement staple. Ford invested in the specialized cars years ago, when the auto business was in deep trouble, to protect its 70 percent share of the police market, she said.

Because the Interceptors are sold via government bidding, they have no suggested retail price. But Teed said Ford is trying to stay close to the average price of $23,300 for the old Crown Victoria.

Ford also Wednesday showed off a new muscle version of the Mustang, the Shelby GT500 convertible. With an optional supercharged 5.8 liter V8, the car delivers 650 horsepower. It was introduced at the Chicago Auto Show on the 20th anniversary of the local debut for a 1993 performance version of the Mustang, a car that featured 235 horsepower.

“This [new] Mustang is capable on the street as well as on the track,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s director of global product programs.