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Ford to add $250 million, 450 jobs to boost electric F-150 Lightning production

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Ford Motor Co. on Thursday announced it will invest an additional $250 million and create 450 jobs at three of its southeast Michigan plants to boost production capacity for the all-electric F-150 Lightning that is slated to launch next spring.

The investments and jobs will be spread across three plants: the new Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn where the F-150 Lightning will be assembled; the Van Dyke Electric Powertrain Center in Sterling Heights that is ramping up production of electric motors and transaxles for electric vehicles; and the Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti, where workers will assemble battery packs for the Lightning.

Pre-delivery inspectors Kelly Jones, left, and Rhonda Cenance wipe and perform quality control on an F-150 Lightning at the end of the line.

Meanwhile, the Dearborn automaker invited media and elected officials, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, to the electric vehicle plant to see the first pre-production versions of the truck. Ford executives say the F-150 Lightning has exceeded their initial expectations for the amount of interest it's generated from potential customers, with more than 150,000 reservations on the books.

The additional investments and jobs will help increase production capacity for the Lightning to 80,000 trucks a year, about double what was originally planned. Ford officials said they expect to hit the 80,000-per-year target in 2023. They declined to comment on the maximum production capacity the plant could eventually hit.

“The reservation numbers have been growing quite rapidly since we launched it; that’s why we’re increasing the capacity and building as fast as we can," said Kumar Galhotra, Ford's president of the Americas & International Markets Group.

Kumar Galhotra, president of the Americas & International Markets Group for Ford, talks about the production of and demand for the F-150 Lightning.

"We knew the F-150 Lightning was special, but the interest from the public has surpassed our highest expectations and changed the conversation around electric vehicles," Bill Ford, executive chair of the company, said in a statement.

Ford announced it was building the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center one year ago. The new facility, which Ford has touted as a highly flexible facility and its most technologically advanced to date, was part of an initial $700 million investment in the Rouge complex that included 300 new jobs.

F-150 Lightning, which the automaker debuted in May, has a starting price of about $40,000 and a targeted EPA-estimated driving range of 300 miles with an extended-range battery.

Plant workers observe the body deck assembly robot, which merges the body of the truck on top of the chassis frame and connects the two.

Like other assembly plants, the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center features trim, chassis and body areas the vehicles go through before final assembly and quality checks. But it uses highly-automated processes involving computers and other technologies that conduct inspections, automated guided carriers that move the unfinished vehicle parts around the plant instead of a fixed conveyor belt, and robots that work alongside employees.

At one station shown during a tour Thursday, for example, collaborative robots use a vision system to inspect the electrical connections in the drivetrain. At another station, large robots are responsible for installing the vehicles' batteries, which weigh more than 1,000 pounds. Toward the end of the process, F-150 Lightning's "frunk," or front trunk, is installed, and the truck moves through various testing steps and then finally is parked at a charging station.

Given the mainstream popularity of F-150, part of the F-Series truck franchise that has been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for decades running, Ford executives and industry analysts alike have cast the truck's electrification as a pivotal move that could help spur EV adoption.

"The F-150 Lightning is poised to usher in a new era of electrification across America," Galhotra said. "F-150 Lightning will be the first mass-produced full-size electric pickup to market next spring, and it will be a game-changer for electric-vehicle adoption."

A prototype of the new F-150 Lightning truck.

Meanwhile, elected officials at Thursday's event highlighted Michigan's automotive history and their hopes that the state will lead the transition to electric vehicles.

“I’m going to stay laser focused at the state level on making investments that support the future of mobility and electrification," Whitmer said. "Together we can create a lot of good-paying jobs here in Michigan — high-skilled union jobs — and lead the world in electric vehicle development and manufacturing.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at the event announcing Ford's extra investment and job creation to boost F-150 Lightning production capacity.

And U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, touted ongoing legislative efforts aimed at bolstering domestic manufacturing, building out EV charging infrastructure, and enacting other key facets of President Joe Biden's agenda. Democrats' $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill was debated in congressional committees this week.

"Michigan is home to the global auto industry, and we have to make sure we keep it that way," said Dingell. "It also means our federal policies have to keep pace with innovation by strengthening domestic manufacturing and jobs and by building the vehicles of the future here in America."

Laura Dickerson, Region 1A director for the United Auto Workers, called Ford's strategy of adding a battery-electric F-150 to the mix alongside internal combustion engine and hybrid versions "the way to approach these jobs of the future."

“That transition is creating jobs in a well-planned, sustainable way," she said. “This is the right way to do it, and together the UAW is ready to build more and more electric vehicle products right here in the United States.”

jgrzelewski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JGrzelewski