By James B. Kelleher
CHICAGO, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Heavy snow and bone-chilling weather this year have taken a toll on Ford Motor Co's U.S. vehicle production just as the company kicks off the biggest year of new model launches in its history, a top executive said on Thursday.
Extreme weather conditions have made it difficult for Ford to get auto parts delivered to plants on time. Ford, Toyota Motor Corp, Honda Motor Co and General Motors Co have all had to halt production at times over the last five weeks due to the weather.
"We've lost production at a number of facilities," Joe Hinrichs, head of Ford's North and South American operations, told reporters. Stoppages occur in "fits and starts - three hours here, go home early there, because of the network."
Ford, the No. 2 U.S. automaker, has enough vehicles on dealer lots to offset the drop in production, Hinrichs said.
The company said this week that its Michigan Assembly Plant, which builds the Focus compact car, will be closed through Sunday due to weather-induced parts shortages.
Bad weather discouraged many consumers from going to dealer showrooms in January, several major automakers said this week. As a result, GM, Ford and other companies reported a higher-than-normal level of unsold cars on dealer lots.
"One time northern Indiana went into emergency and you couldn't drive on the roads," Hinrichs said. "Louisville got six inches of snow and it shut down the place. Kansas City shut down the roads the other day."
He added: "I'll tell you this, in my 20-some years in this industry, I've never seen five weeks like this of weather like this."
The bout of extreme weather will test Ford's ability to ensure its busy year goes off without a hitch. Hinrichs has been a key player in the company's effort to avoid missteps that could undermine or delay the introduction of those new vehicles.
So far, Ford's upcoming launches are all on track, including the Lincoln MKC crossover and the highly anticipated revamp of the lucrative and top-selling F-150 pickup truck.
The MKC is the second of four models intended to reboot the Lincoln brand's image. Ford tried to relaunch the premium brand in late 2012 with the MKZ sedan, but a shortage of parts and problems in manufacturing delayed the MKZ's launch for months.