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Ford to build new electric vehicle center at Rouge complex, add 300 jobs

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Ford Motor Co. will build a new, 500,000-square-foot electric vehicle manufacturing operation at the historic Ford Rouge Center, the automaker said Thursday, creating 300 new jobs to support battery assembly and production of hybrid and battery-electric versions of its profit-rich F-150 pick-up truck.

The Blue Oval is eyeing a mid-2022 launch of the first battery-electric version of the truck. Meanwhile, it is now launching production of the next-generation F-150, which is due on dealer lots later this year. In all, the automaker says it will invest $700 million in the Rouge complex to support production of the new F-150 lineup.

Ford has broken ground for the new all-electric Ford F-150 assembly plant at the Dearborn Truck Plant at the Rouge complex.

"We are proud to once again build and innovate for the future here at the Rouge with the debut of our all-new F-150 and the construction of a modern new manufacturing center to build the first-ever all-electric F-150," Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in a statement. "This year's COVID-19 crisis made it clear why it is so important for companies like Ford to help keep our U.S. manufacturing base strong and help our country get back to work."

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, called the news "game changing:" "An all-electric version of the best selling vehicle in the U.S. and built right here in Southeast Michigan — that’s win-win! This commitment to American manufacturing leads innovation and climate leadership."

Bill Ford Jr., Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Co., gives his remarks during the press conference to unveil the new  Ford F-150 at the historic Dearborn Truck Plant in the Rouge complex, Thursday, September 17, 2020.

Ford is billing the new site — which will feature robots working alongside employees, and self-driving "sleds" that can move vehicle beds between stations — as its most technologically-advanced facility to date.

"Like the all-new electric model, the facility that will be home to the electric F-150 is also being designed to bring Ford's vision of American manufacturing and sustainability into the future. Using smart, connected technologies, we can communicate directly with the vehicles we are assembling," said Gary Johnson, Ford's chief manufacturing and labor affairs officer.

And, Johnson said, the new facility can be expanded in the future, as demand for electric vehicles grows. EVs currently make up just a tiny slice of overall vehicle sales in the U.S., but Detroit's automakers are betting that the future of the industry will be defined by electric and autonomous vehicles. Ford has committed to investing $11 billion on EV development by 2022.

Jim Farley, COO of Ford Motor Co and Bill Ford, Jr. Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Co., poses with the new  F-150 as Ford unveils the new F-150 electric truck at the historic Dearborn Truck Plant in the Rouge complex, Thursday, September 17, 2020 in Dearborn.

The automaker on Thursday shared new details about the electric F-150, which it claims will deliver the most horsepower and torque of any F-150 yet, the fastest zero-to-60 times, and the ability to tow heavy trailers.

The battery-electric truck will debut new technology that allows mobile power generation; come with dual electric motors; and feature a front trunk to add cargo-carrying capacity. The electric version will offer over-the-air software updates, which are being introduced in the new F-150 lineup. And Ford claims electric truck owners stand to save as much as 40% over the vehicle's lifetime compared to the costs of owning a vehicle with an internal combustion engine because electric vehicles require less maintenance.

"Please don’t think of the truck as an F-150 with a new propulsion system," said Jim Farley, Ford's chief operating officer and incoming CEO. "It’s a digital product. It is not just a new propulsion system.”

Ford is contrasting its electric truck offering with those of its competitors by emphasizing that it will retain the work capabilities for which the F-Series is known: "Other electric pickups are competing for lifestyle customers," said Kumar Galhotra, president of the Americas & International Markets Group. "The all-electric F-150 is designed and engineered for hard-working customers who need a truck to do a job." 

The decision not to make a "lifestyle" truck was guided by customer research, he said: "We found a very clear and substantial market for people who want a vehicle like this, who want the silhouette to look 'Built Ford Tough' like our present vehicles, but still distinct. It's going to look different than the (internal combustion engine) F-150, but it will have the same Built Ford Tough DNA that we have in all our trucks."

"This isn’t a truck for ‘never-nevers,’ who never tow, never haul, and never go off-road," Farley said. “Simply put, this is no gimmick. It is a workhorse. It’s not a show horse destined to a shiny garage filled with four luxury cars. It’s for serious truck owners.”

Jim Farley, COO and incoming CEO, speaks unveils the new F-150 during a press conference this morning  at the historic Dearborn Truck Plant in the Rouge complex, Thursday, September 17, 2020, in Dearborn.

Meanwhile, workers are now preparing for the changeover to the redesigned F-150, with production slated to start later this month. Farley would not provide a specific date when the new truck would arrive at dealerships, but said the process is "on track."

Gerald Kariem, UAW vice president and director of the union's Ford Department, noted the Rouge complex's history as a home to some of Ford's most iconic products: "Where once the Mustang changed America, UAW members will now build the truck that will change America."

"For us it is fitting that once again this land will assemble vehicles of the future," said Bernie Ricke, president of Local 600. "For all the glitz the startup companies and Wall Street darlings get over EVs, here — yes, right here — we are going to build the class of electric vehicles and trucks that emerge."

As it embarks on the crucial launch of the redesigned F-150, and amid a presidential election cycle in which issues such as manufacturing and trade have taken center stage, Ford is touting its position as the No. 1 employer of hourly autoworkers in the country and its commitment to building in America.

"We can’t have a strong economy or a strong democracy without a strong manufacturing base, and I’ve sat with presidents of both parties who understand this," said Bill Ford. "This is not and should not be a political issue, but it does have to be a national mission. There does have to be a sense of urgency about it.”

The Blue Oval shared the results of an economic-impact study it commissioned from Boston Consulting Group which found that up to 14 American jobs are supported by each F-Series employee, for a total of about 500,000 jobs tied to the Blue Oval's signature truck lineup. The study also found that, in 2019, the truck franchise alone generated more revenue than major companies such as Nike and Coca-Cola, and accounts for about half of Ford's $100 billion contribution to the U.S. GDP.

"As the most widely-used vehicle in 39 of 50 states, the F-Series' 16.6 million trucks on the road represent approximately 6% of all vehicles in operation in the U.S.," said Michael Book, managing director and senior partner at the consulting firm. "Such is the F-Series' ubiquity and importance in the country that it ranks among the most popular consumer products in the U.S."

The Ford Rouge plant, in Dearborn,  is shown in this March 18, 2020 file photo.

To highlight its commitment to jobs and plants in the U.S., the automaker this week launched a new advertising campaign called "Built for America."

"Our employees, our dealers, our suppliers and our customers are the very fabric of America," said marketing director Matt VanDyke. "Our new campaign represents the heart of Ford and the American values that make us who we are."

jgrzelewski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JGrzelewski