(This story has been updated with new information.)
As part of a $12 billion commitment to electrify its line-up, Ford Motor Co. will set up a new plant at its historic Rouge Complex near Detroit to produce a battery-powered version of the F-150 pickup – and possibly other BEVs to follow, the automaker announced today.
Called the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, it will cost $700 million, Ford officials said during a media background briefing ahead of Tuesday’s formal announcement. About 300 new jobs will be added.
The facility “will be Ford’s most technologically advanced plant in the world,” said Gary Johnson, the automaker’s manufacturing chief. Officials noted this morning the the plant will run on 100% renewable energy. Johnson also noted the new electric pickup itself will be “even smarter and more sustainable” than anything Ford currently has on the road.
“The target is a total cost of ownership that is more 40% less than similar gas engine trucks over the life of the vehicle,” said COO Jim Farley, who will take on the top job next month.
The Rouge Complex originally opened just before the end of World War I and has produced a variety of different automotive products since then, as well as vehicles and weaponry used during both World Wars.
Nearly closed around the turn of the new millennium, Ford launched a major makeover that saw the facility take on production of its iconic F-150 pickup.
Now, Ford is preparing to launch an all-electric version of the truck. The question was whether to put the existing Rouge factory through a changeover that could have shut it down for months or build a separate plant for the battery-powered truck. The answer fell somewhere in-between.
The body of an electric F-150 will be produced on the existing line then “exit the plant and take a left turn,” said Johnson, moved by autonomous “sled” to the new, 500,000 square-foot plant where it will be mated to a unique, skateboard-like platform containing the battery pack and electric drivetrain system.
The approach avoids the costly makeover of the existing F-150 plans and “gives us flexibility,” said Johnson who acknowledged that the operation eventually could produce other electrified Ford products.
The automaker has committed to producing an array of plug-based hybrids and all-electric models in the coming years and will launch the first, long-range EV – the Ford Mustang Mach-E – before year-end. It has also confirmed plans to build another EV as part of a joint venture with Rivian, an electric vehicle startup in which Ford has invested $500 million.
The plan is to highly automate the updated Rouge facility, located a few miles from Ford headquarters in the western Detroit suburb of Dearborn.
Along with the autonomous sleds, there will be “collaborative robots,” a technology Ford first pioneered at a plant in Cologne, Germany. Where most factory robots handle big jobs, such as welding and painting, and most be carefully fenced off for safety reasons, the new Ford robots will be stationed side-by-side with human workers to assist with difficult chores, doing tasks that might otherwise lead to strains and injuries, Johnson explained.
Where the Mach-E SUV primarily will target retail consumers, the electric F-150 will emphasize those who use their pickup for work, Ford officials noted during their webinar. Among the features that will be offered, the pickup will have an onboard generator and be able to power tools on a remote site. It also will have a large “frunk” in which those tools and other materials can be stored where the gas or diesel engine would normally be found on a conventional F-Series pickup.
While commercial users were slow to embrace the switch to electrification, that is changing fast, said Kumar Galhotra, president of Ford’s North American operations.
One reason is that operating costs are lower, especially for those who can charge at a plant or depot. And, since EVs tend to need lower maintenance, they have less downtime, a big advantage for commercial users.
The all-electric version of the F-150 will launch mid-2022, according to Chairman Bill Ford Jr. The automaker is already rolling out a major makeover of the conventional truck for the 2021 model year, including a hybrid model. The automaker will use that as the foundation for a new, “Built for America” ad campaign highlighting its commitment to U.S. manufacturing.
Where key competitors General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles produce a sizable share of their own full-size pickups in Mexico, the entire Ford F-Series line-up is assembled in the States, Galhotra noted, despite a “substantial” cost penalty for doing so, primarily due to the higher cost of American labor.
“Despite the price we pay it’s a choice we make,” he said, adding, “because we believe in a strong manufacturing presence in this country.”
The F-Series, which includes larger Super Duty versions like the F-250, is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. market. It also generates fully half of Ford’s annual $100 billion contribution to the U.S. GDP, noted Michael Book, senior vice president for the Boston Consulting Group, which just completed a study of Ford and its contribution to the U.S. economy.
The study found that 500,000 American jobs are directly attributable to the F-150, the truck itself accounting for 6% of the total U.S. motor vehicle fleet.