Ford and General Motors separately announced similar plans this week to reconfigure two of their American factories for EV production. The plants in question are the Flat Rock, Michigan facility that currently produces the Ford Mustang and Lincoln Continental and the Orion Township factory that makes the Chevrolet Sonic and all variants of the Chevrolet Bolt. Both announcements arrive at a time when the two American companies are under increased scrutiny for recent or pending downsizing, which has impacted workers in America and abroad.
Ford is one of several automakers that have talked a big game but produced little in regards to fully electric vehicles. To date, the Focus Electric Hatchback stands alone as their only fully baked EV so far, and that was clearly a compliance vehicle. Ford has been more successful with their regular and plug in hybrids, and later this year the 2020 Ford Explorer and Lincoln Aviator hybrids will arrive at American dealerships. The next generation Ford Escape will also spawn at least one partial or fully electric variant, and Ford will introduce a regular hybrid and fully electric F-150 at some point in the future, but no concrete time table currently exists for any of those vehicles.
As for the announcement related to Flat Rock, Ford says they will spend around $850 million and create 900 jobs to build this new EV and retool the plant for the next generation Mustang. Given the expense associated with redesigning vehicles, $850 million between two models isn’t a lot of money, and it possibly signals Fords intent to keep the Mustang on its current platform for at least one more generation. Even if that is the case, the next Mustang will spawn a hybrid variant of some sort.
This latest development does not bode well for the Continental. Lincoln moved just under 9,000 of them last year, which is not a terribly great number. And while it’s good news that the factory is getting some new product, Ford has switched gears several times about the plant’s future, initially saying it would be a focal point for their autonomous vehicle research and production before changing their minds yet again.
Ford previously revealed their intention to build another unspecified electric SUV at its factory in Cuautitlan, Mexico. This came about after they originally said it would be produced at the Flat Rock plant. It would seem the only thing that is consistent about Ford’s EV plans is its inconsistency. Anyway, this plant currently builds the sixth generation Fiesta and will continue to do so until May 2019, at which point it is logical to assume that the plant will be retooled for the mystery EV, which means its introduction could be imminent.
The company also plans to retool its Hermosillo, Mexico plant to build the next generation Transit Connect van and wagon. The Focus-based van is currently built in Valencia, Spain. The upcoming Courier, a Focus-based compact pickup that Ford recently confirmed for the American market, is also slated to be built in Mexico, with a planned release date of no later than 2022. It would make sense for Ford to build both vehicles in the same plant, especially if they share the same underpinnings.
There has been no news about the Fusion or its future as an Outback competitor. The Fusion and Lincoln MKZ are currently produced at the Hermosillo factory, so they’re potentially impacted by the inclusion of Transit related products. Although it is a plant capable of building at least 250,000 vehicles, so who knows.
As for General Motors, they intend to inject $300 million into the Orion plant that currently builds the Chevrolet Bolt and Sonic. Like Ford, they have also revealed their plans to build an additional EV that no one has seen yet. This new EV will utilize the Bolt platform. It would make a bit of sense for General Motors to build some type of Model 3 competitor off its bones, especially since they’ve cancelled the Cruze and will probably axe the Sonic to make way for this unknown product. But that is all wishful thinking on my part and the company will probably just create something that looks more like an actual crossover as opposed to the current Bolt, which is more of a raised hatchback than anything else. In any event, this cash infusion will create about 400 jobs.
The automaker is also spending over a billion additional dollars in six states to bolster their manufacturing capabilities. No further specifications as to what facilities or plants would get the funds were revealed.
As the auto industry continues to adapt to this brave new world of alternative energy vehicles and autonomous driving technology, demographic changes and consumer tastes have only complicated automakers plans to maintain any sort of rational product planning. Ford and General Motors have been a bit late to the game when it comes to developing fully electric vehicles, and these latest announcements are frustrating due to their vague references to future vehicles whose capabilities may or may not be competitive when they arrive in several years. To make matters worse, the diversion of resources away from slow selling internal combustion vehicles has resulted in a substantial loss of jobs for auto workers worldwide. Unfortunately, we should probably expect more of these types of announcements in the future.
“GM will produce new EV in Michigan., add 400 jobs” by Michael Wayland, Automotive News
“Ford invests heavily to build EVs, next-gen Mustang at Flat Rock plant” Sven Gustafson, Autoblog