Ford's Atlas concept truck

Ford's Atlas truck concept shows where the automaker is going with truck design. The company plans to add 2,000 jobs at a truck factory in Kansas City this year to meet demand. (Los Angeles Times)

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Ford Motor Co. will add 2,000 jobs at a factory near Kansas City, Mo., to meet surging demand for pickup trucks and to build a new van.

Helped by a rebound in housing and construction, trucks have become the hottest segment of the U.S. auto industry so far this year, with sales outpacing passenger cars by a wide margin this year.

Ford wants to have production ready to meet that demand.

“The truck segment is growing three times faster than the overall industry, the housing market is strengthening, and we are seeing growth in the U.S. economy,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas.

Light truck sales grew 14% to 633,694 vehicles in April over the same month a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp.  Passenger car sales grew just 3% to 651,644 during the same period.

Ford said Thursday it would add 900 jobs at the factory in the third quarter to build more F-series trucks. The pickup is the best selling vehicle of any type in the U.S.

The automaker will also add a further 1,100 jobs starting in the fourth quarter to prepare for the introduction of the new Ford Transit full-size van in 2014.

“The Transit van is very popular in Europe, and they are finally bringing it to the U.S.,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with auto information company Edmunds.com. “It has great potential and will be popular with small businesses such as plumbers and electricians.”

The Transit’s primary competitor will be the Sprinter, a cargo van manufactured by Mercedes-Benz that sells well in the U.S., Krebs said.

“It comes at a good time because you are seeing a pickup in commercial sales. Businesses are starting to buy trucks and vans,” Krebs said.

Sales of Ford’s F-Series pickup rose 24.4% in April compared to the same month a year earlier.  Chrysler’s Ram truck division saw sales rise 49% from a year earlier. Sales of General Motors’ twin trucks, the GMC Sierra and the Chevrolet Silverado, were up a combined 23.6%.

Ford is investing $1.1 billion to retool and expand the Kansas City facility so that it can make both the F-150 and Transit at the factory.

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