Ford Motor Co. will transform its big assembly plant in Valencia, Spain into the lead site for producing its next-generation battery-electric vehicle platform, the automaker said Wednesday, while it also will move forward with a $2 billion investment at a manufacturing complex in Cologne, Germany expected to start building BEVs next year.
“Bringing our all-new electric vehicle architecture to Valencia will help us build a profitable business in Europe, secure high value employment and increase Ford’s offering of premium electric, high performance, fully connected vehicles that meet the demand of our European customers,” said Stuart Rowley, chair, Ford of Europe and the parent company’s chief transformation & quality officer.
But the announcement by Ford raised some serious concerns about how the ongoing shift from gas and diesel to electric drive will impact automotive employment. The automaker didn’t offer details but noted in a statement given to Reuters that there will need to be a “significant” restructuring at the Valencia plant which currently employs about 6,000 workers.
Cleaner air – but fewer jobs
That was not entirely unexpected. Industry planners and analysts have repeatedly cautioned that fewer workers will be needed to assemble battery-electric vehicles going forward. That’s especially true on the powertrain side where the production of batteries and motors is a highly automated process.
Ford has laid out a goal of going 100% electric in Europe and earlier this year announced seven new BEVs for the market. It not only plans to convert assembly operations there but is setting up battery manufacturing sites in both Germany and Turkey.
In its announcement Wednesday, Ford described the new vehicle architecture going into the Valencia plant as “a critical step…to achieve an all-electric future.” The design adopts the skateboard-style layout most manufacturers are now migrating to, with batteries and motors located under a vehicle’s load floor. The designs will allow increasing range while also freeing up space for larger passenger and cargo compartments.
VW lays out big plans, too
Ford is by no means the only automaker shifting its European focus to BEVs. Earlier this month, VW said it will launch a sedan version of its ID.4 model in 2026 and will put it into production at an all-new, $2.2 billion plant located near its headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany. VW also plans to start EV production in Spain in 2025 and will set up a battery plant in Valencia.
The largest of the German automakers has committed $110 billion to an electrification program with which, CEO Herbert Diess said in March, VW hopes to surpass Tesla by mid-decade.
But Diess has also confirmed that the shift to battery power will impact future jobs. That has generated strong pushback from union leaders who hold significant sway on the company’s management board.
European leaders divided over plans
Battery-electric vehicles have, if anything, created a significant divide in a Europe where climate change is a critical concern, but so is the future of automotive employment.
The European Commission has laid out plans to completely ban the sale of new vehicles using internal combustion engines by 2035 – following on the lead of the UK and Norway which have already enacted similar mandates.
The proposal won the backing of the European Parliament this month – but must still be approved by the individual states making up the European Union. And German leaders have responded, “Nein.”
Despite the shift by the country’s main automakers – including not only VW but Mercedes-Benz and BMW – German Finance Minister Christian Lindner ruled out a ban on ICE vehicles on Tuesday. Lindner said there will still be niches where gas and diesel power are needed.
European consumers calling the shots
That position matches comments from BMW CEO Oliver Zipse. While the Bavarian automaker is rapidly ramping up BEV production, Zipse has stressed his belief that “demand for ICE vehicles will remain robust for many years to come.”
The French, Czech and Italian governments have also expressed their opposition to a full ban on internal combustion engines.
But where the European car market goes may be in the hands of consumers, rather than regulators, a new study suggests. During a presentation to the Automotive Press Association on Wednesday, AlixPartners said it expects that 83% of the new vehicles sold in Europe by 2035 will be all-electric. The consulting firm forecast a lower 54% market share for BEVs globally by that year.