Ford, VW link-up looms over Detroit auto show

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
Ford Motor Co. chairman Bill Ford Jr. speaks to the media at the Detroit auto show on Monday at Cobo Center in Detroit.

Detroit — Ford Motor Co. and Volkswagen AG leadership Tuesday morning will offer some details about the companies' ongoing partnership discussions.

The automakers are expected to at least announce official plans to partner on joint production of commercial pickup trucks, The Detroit News reported Friday. Ford officials in the last week have said partnering in Europe could be a boon to Ford's commercial vehicle business there.

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VW officials have said Ford's U.S. production facilities could be a valuable asset for the German automaker that's trying to grow U.S. market share.

"The talks are going really well," Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said Monday at the Detroit auto show.

Ford CEO Jim Hackett kept things close to the vest Monday at the auto show, saying "there's nothing to report today." 

Hackett, Herbert Diess, VW CEO, Jim Farley, Ford president of global markets and Thomas Sedran, VW CEO of commercial vehicles, will detail the plans Tuesday morning on a conference call.

The automakers have been in talks since at least June regarding a partnership on commercial vehicles. Those discussions expanded. The companies are still negotiating a partnership along with Argo AI, the autonomous driving technology company in which Ford has an ownership stake, to partner on autonomous vehicles. 

The automakers have also talked about partnering on electric vehicles. VW announced plans to invest more than $800 million into a second plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to build electric vehicles. The facility is a part of VW's e-mobility future in the United States and will create 1,000 new jobs. The first electric vehicles are expected to roll out in 2022 from VW. 

Ford, meantime, is expanding its own electric vehicle offerings. The automaker is planning to offer 24 hybrid variants of every new vehicle it introduces moving forward. The automaker will also debut 16 all-new full-battery electric vehicles in coming years, the first of which is a "Mustang-inspired" electric vehicle that's Hackett's brainchild.

The automakers have not publicly commented on what an EV partnership would look like. It's also unclear if a commercial vehicle partnership would bring the Ford-VW pickup to the U.S. commercial market as well.

Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of global operations, told The Detroit News on Monday that Ford is in a transition period with powertrains. The industry is moving from combustion engines to a greater mix of electric and hybrid vehicles.

"It's been slower than people predicted 10 years ago or five years ago, but it's coming," Hinrichs said. "We know it's coming. We think that it's important for the customer use cases that we offer them choices."

Ford and VW are expected to continue negotiating pieces of the partnership after the companies offer some clarification on the status of things Tuesday.

The automakers are not merging, both Ford and VW officials have said. That has never been part of the talks.

The automakers signed a memorandum of understanding last summer to look into partnering on commercial vehicles, Ford's best-seller in Europe. Pickups are a weak spot for VW, which vies annually to be the global leader in vehicle sales. 

Diess said after a White House meeting in December that he might use Ford plant capacity in the U.S. to build cars. Ford said then the discussions were progressing well.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau