Romulus site selected for Ford battery facility Ion Park

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. on Tuesday said it has selected the city of Romulus for the site of a previously announced, $100 million global battery research and development center.

Ford's Ion Park project moved forward after the Michigan Strategic Fund — part of the state's quasi-governmental economic development organization, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. — approved the transfer of an existing renaissance zone in the Wayne County city to the Dearborn automaker. 

The renaissance zone will transfer from A123 Systems Inc., which in 2010 received approval for the creation of a 15-year renaissance zone, according to a MEDC memo. The zone is slated to expire Dec. 31, 2025, with a remaining value of about $1 million over that period.

A renaissance zone designation allows a company to operate free of virtually all state and local taxes over the life of the agreement.  

Ford has taken advantage of the program before: In 2018, the state signed off on up to $207 million in tax breaks over 30 years as part of a renaissance zone designation tied to the automaker's restoration of Michigan Central Station in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood. 

Ford plans to refurbish a 270,000-square-foot facility on the Romulus site, which the automaker confirmed Tuesday it has already purchased. The company expects to bring about 200 employees to the site within 18 months of renovations being complete.

The project was hailed by state officials, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“Ford’s investment in battery research and development in Romulus will support hundreds of good-paying jobs, attract innovative talent to Michigan, and help us continue leading the world in advanced mobility and manufacturing,” she said in a statement. “Ford is an American icon that has left its mark on the world over a century, and with the research that will take place at Ford Ion Park, they will shape the next century while reducing emissions and accelerating electrification.”

Ion Park, described by Ford as a "collaborative learning laboratory," will house some 200 engineers, researchers and other workers. Employees there will research and test battery technologies and pilot advanced manufacturing techniques to help Ford boost battery cell volumes, improve battery range and reduce costs. The center will be home to the development and manufacturing of both lithium-ion — the more prevalent technology currently in use — and solid-state battery cells and arrays.

The project represents $100 million of a total $185 million investment Ford is making in the development, testing and manufacture of battery cells and cell arrays. It also is part of the $30 billion investment in electrification through 2025 that the company announced earlier this year, building on previous commitments.

But Ion Park, which Ford announced in April, is just one prong of Ford's electrification push. 

The automaker launched its first all-electric vehicle, the Mustang Mach-E, late last year. It has revealed the forthcoming battery-electric version of the best-selling F-150 pickup truck, to be assembled in Dearborn starting next year. It's preparing to launch an electric version of its Transit commercial van.

And Ion Park ties in with Ford's plans, announced in May, to manufacture batteries with joint-venture partner SK Innovation. The venture is slated to produce 60 gigawatt hours annually in traction battery cells and array modules in North America, starting mid-decade, with the potential to expand.

Issues around the supply chain for electric vehicles are at the forefront for global automakers as they invest billions of dollars in electrification. Pandemic-related disruptions, including a global shortage of computer chips, have highlighted the need to shore up supply chains and create new production capacity for a forthcoming wave of electrified vehicles.

"The new lab will help Ford speed up the battery development process to deliver even more capable, affordable batteries and is part of Ford's renewed commitment to making Michigan a centerpiece of its focus on EVs," Anand Sankaran, director of Ion Park, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, A123 ceased operations at the facility some time ago. Crain's Detroit Business reported in 2017 that the company's lithium-ion battery cell production there was slated to end amid low demand at that time for the components, and plans by the company to build new facilities in Novi.

Ford's selection of Romulus for the project is just the latest in a string of recent development in the city. Early in 2021, city officials told The Detroit News that more than 25 new businesses had opened or announced plans to open there over the past year.

Twitter: @JGrzelewski