Ford Motor Co. will double the planned capacity of its new battery-electric pickup plant as it responds to unexpectedly high demand for the F-150 Lightning set to go on sale late next spring.
The Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, Michigan now will be tooled to produce as many as 80,000 of the all-electric pickups, Kumar Galhotra, Ford’s president of The Americas and International Markets Group, announced Thursday. The expansion will cost about $250 million and create 450 new jobs at the factory — part of the automaker’s massive Rouge Assembly Center — and two other support facilities.
“Electrifying the F-Series — America’s best-selling truck for 44 years — and assembling it at this high-tech facility in Michigan represents a significant step toward mass adoption of electric vehicles in America,” said Galhotra, who added that Ford has now recorded about 150,000 advance reservations since the Lightning was unveiled in May.
It’s unclear how many of those reservations, which required a modest $100 deposit, actually will turn into sales, but Galhotra and other Ford officials told TheDetroitBureau.com on Thursday that they are optimistic that demand will meet or exceed even the expanded capacity of the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center.
If the majority of customers follow through on their reservations, it could take until well into 2023 for all to take delivery. Production is expected to ramp up slowly at the EV plant, only reaching the new, 80,000 annual target by early 2023.
From nothing to high-tech manufacturing facility
That facility was little more than a parking lot one year ago, noted Corey Williams, the plant manager, but it turned out its first F-150 Lightning prototype on Thursday. The facility was touted as “the latest and greatest,” by Ford executives during a media tour. Among other things, it replaces the conventional automotive assembly line with independently moving AGVs, or automated guided vehicles. It utilizes dozens of robots, including a number of “cobots,” designed to work alongside human workers, rather than isolated areas in the plant.
Elements of the technology introduced at the Electric Vehicle Center will show up in other parts of the Rouge complex, various Ford officials noted, when conventionally powered versions of the F-150 next go through a model changeover.
“The interest from the public has surpassed our highest expectations,” Ford’s Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in a statement announcing the expansion of the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center.
But that describes the growing public interest in battery-electric vehicles, in general, Galhotra told TheDetroitBureau.com. It’s something that he said he couldn’t have imagined “just a couple years ago.”
EV sales taking off
U.S. sales of BEVs doubled during the first half of 2021 and the number of all-electric models on the market is expected to quadruple by the end of 2022 — to more than 50 –including not only the Lightning but vehicles like the Hyundai Ioniq 5, the Toyota bZ4X and the Mercedes-Benz EQS. There are also a number of all-electric pickups set to compete with the Lightning. General Motors will beat Ford to market with this year’s launch of the GMC Hummer EV and startup Rivian this week produced its first R1T pickup. Entries from conventional auto brands Chevrolet and Ram, as well as other new entrants such as Bollinger, are also in the works.
For his part, Ford CEO Jim Farley recently announced a 250% increase in the company’s planned investment in electrifying its line-up — a move that will also include hybrids and plug-in hybrids. Galhotra would not rule out a further increase in the plan which now standard at $30 billion through the rest of this decade.
All told, AlixPartners has estimated the auto industry will collectively invest about $330 billion in battery-car development and production by 2025.
President Joe Biden recently signed an executive order setting a goal of having plug-based models account for 50% of U.S. sales by 2030. He has been pressing for funding to help support that goal. That includes money for both a nationwide network of charging stations, as well as increased tax credits for EV buyers. A proposed incentive program currently is working its way through the U.S. House of Representatives.