Ford EV investments in southeast Michigan and Missouri to add hundreds of jobs

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. will invest hundreds of millions of dollars and add hundreds of jobs in southeast Michigan and Missouri as it takes the latest steps in electrifying its most popular and iconic nameplates.

The Dearborn automaker announced Tuesday it will build the upcoming E-Transit — a fully electric version of its bestselling Transit cargo van — at its Kansas City Assembly plant, bringing a $100 million investment and 150 full-time, permanent jobs to the facility in Claycomo, Missouri.

Ford unveiled plans in September for the all-new Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn where it will build the all-electric F-150 by mid-2022.

Additionally, the Blue Oval said it will add or retain a total of 425 jobs in Dearborn and Sterling Heights to support assembly of electric vehicles and parts at facilities there.

The company said Tuesday it plans to invest $150 million in its Van Dyke Transmission plant in Sterling Heights to build e-motors and e-transaxles beginning in 2021, which will retain 225 jobs there.

Ford also said that interest in the forthcoming electric F-150 is so strong that it will increase production plans by 50% at its Dearborn Truck plant where it will be built, and add 200 jobs. That's in addition to 300 previously announced jobs tied to the electric truck. It declined to say what the original production target was.

The electric F-150 will be built at Ford's Dearborn-based Rouge Center, shown here in a an artist sketch.

The automaker said in September it would invest $700 million at the historic Rouge complex in Dearborn to support production of the new F-150 lineup, including  battery-powered pickup slated for release in 2022. The investment includes a new, 500,000-square-foot EV manufacturing facility at Dearborn Truck where the electric F-150 will be built.

Production on a redesigned F-150, including a hybrid version, is now underway at Kansas City Assembly and at Dearborn Truck.

The investment announcements come ahead of the Thursday reveal of the E-Transit, which is slated for release in late 2021 for model year 2022. Ford executives have said the automaker's robust and highly profitable commercial vehicle business will play a key role in the company's electric-vehicle strategy, as business customers look to take advantage of the reduced maintenance time, lower overall costs and data-driven services that technologically advanced trucks and vans promise.

A teaser photo of the E-Transit, which will premiere Thursday.

"Ford's strategy is different — we are delivering affordable, capable electric vehicles in the heart of the retail and commercial market rather than six-figure status vehicles," Kumar Galhotra, president of Ford's Americas and International Markets Group, said in a statement. "With the stunning Mustang Mach-E, an all-electric F-150 and the new E-Transit, our first wave of EVs in North America will introduce a whole new generation to EVs."

Ford's strategy of using commercial vehicles as an entry point into the EV market makes sense, Autotrader executive analyst Michelle Krebs said, because of what the automaker can learn from those digitally connected vehicles and because Ford already is such a strong player in the commercial market.

"You get big numbers and you get predictable patterns of these vehicles, and you can collect a lot of data and a lot of information about how the vehicles behave, and how they're used, where they go," she said. "It also helps them plan an EV infrastructure. ... It becomes a little laboratory that's much more controllable."

Offering affordable options also makes sense, she said, because Ford will likely be able to sell larger volumes of relatively affordable EVs — and achieving higher volume will be key to achieving widespread adoption of EVs.

"The only way you're going to proliferate EVs is to aim at the heart of the market," said Krebs.

The announcements were cheered by the United Auto Workers union and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

"We are pleased that Ford has continued its commitment to UAW members to lead the country in domestic car production and jobs," the UAW said in a statement. 

The union described Tuesday's investment announcement as a "realignment" of commitments Ford made during contract negotiations with the UAW in 2019, in which the automaker agreed to a total investment of $6 billion and to create or retain 8,500 jobs.

"It is a credit to our members' hard work and quality craftsmanship that no plants lose any production capacity or jobs during the realignment. We are encouraged that planned new jobs created and overall job commitments continue on track at the levels that were negotiated in 2019's collective bargaining agreement."

Whitmer, in a statement, said the announcement is "good news for our families, our hardworking UAW members, and our economy as a whole. Ford's latest investment will create hundreds of new, good-paying jobs for Michigan workers and help us solidify our status as the automotive capital of the world."

The Transit was America's best-selling van last year, with more than 150,000 sold. Ford executives have said they see the potential to tap into new revenue streams by offering fleet operators data-driven services that will increase uptime and efficiency.

"This Ford Transit isn't just about creating an electric drivetrain, it's about designing and developing a digital product that propels fleets forward," CEO Jim Farley, then chief operating officer, said in March when the electric Transit was announced. He called commercial vehicles a "critical component to our big bet on electrification."

Ford's electric-vehicle strategy, which includes a commitment to spend $11.5 billion on EV development by 2022, is designed around leveraging the Blue Oval's most iconic and high-volume vehicles.

The first of its electric offerings, the Mustang Mach-E, is slated for release next month. The automaker said Tuesday it plans to build another electric vehicle at its plant in Cuautitlan, Mexico, where the Mach-E is being built. A new, unannounced vehicle will share a "similar" platform as the Mach-E, according to a news release.

Overall, the automaker has $3.2 billion in EV-related investments slated for manufacturing facilities in North America.

The automaker has said that its electric-vehicle lineup is key to helping it meet its goal of achieving carbon neutrality globally by 2050.

Twitter: @JGrzelewski