Ford currently builds the Ford Edge and Lincoln Nautilus at its factory in Oakville, Ontario, a facility that first opened in 1953. Now Ford says it will invest $1.5 billion to transform the Oakville Assembly Complex into a Canadian hub for manufacturing electric vehicles and battery packs. The reconfigured site will play a key role in Ford’s plan to reach a global production run rate of 2 million EVs annually by the end of 2026
The new campus will become a high-volume manufacturing hub for North American EV production by repurposing existing buildings into a fully updated facility that is able to take advantage of a highly experienced workforce that already exists at the Oakville factory.
Ford expects to retool and transform the Oakville complex in the second quarter of 2024 to prepare for production of its next generation of electric vehicles beginning in 2025. Ford says it is the first full-line automaker committed to producing passenger EVs in Canada for the North American market.
“Canada and the Oakville complex will play a vital role in our Ford+ transformation. It will be a modern, super-efficient, vertically integrated site for battery and vehicle assembly. I’m most excited for the world to see the incredible next-generation electric and fully digitally connected vehicles produced in Oakville,” said Jim Farley, Ford president and CEO.
“Ford of Canada has been a leader in the country’s auto industry since it was founded 119 years ago, driven by hard-working, dedicated employees,” said Bev Goodman, president and CEO, Ford of Canada. “As the top-selling auto brand in Canada for 14 straight years, the successful transition to EV production in Oakville will help deliver stable Canadian employment with the opportunity to build the new skills and expertise to drive Ford and the industry forward.”
The 487 acre Oakville site includes three body shops, one paint building, and one assembly building. The transformed campus will feature a new 407,000-square-foot on-site battery plant that will utilize cells and arrays from BlueOval SK Battery Park in Kentucky. Oakville workers will take these components and assemble battery packs that will then be installed in vehicles assembled on-site.
The one thing Ford didn’t say about its plans to build EVs in Canada is which models will be manufactured there. Presumably, that information will be coming in due course.
Ford, EVs, & Jobs
In addition to the Oakville Electric Vehicle Complex upgrades, Ford has also announced it is creating a new EV manufacturing ecosystem in West Tennessee called BlueOval City which will be home to a battery plant and will manufacture the company’s next-generation electric pickup truck. Together with two battery plants in Kentucky, which are part of a joint venture with SK On, these sites will create 11,000 new jobs in the US.
It is building a new lithium-iron-phosphate battery plant in Marshall, Michigan, in collaboration with CATL that will employ 2,500 workers and is modernizing its vehicle assembly campus in Cologne, Germany, to become the company’s first EV center of excellence in Europe. This site will be the production home of the electric Ford Explorer for European customers when production begins later this year.
Ford, LG Energy Solution, and Koç Holding have signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding to build one of the largest commercial electric vehicle battery cell production facilities in the European region. The project is on track to break ground near Ankara, Turkey, later this year, with production to start in 2026. Ford this year is expanding production of the F-150 Lightning at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn and the Mustang Mach-E at its Cuautitlan facility on Mexico.
Ford Rethinks Its China Strategy
Every major automaker has a presence in China, the world’s largest new car market. Companies from America, Europe, and Japan swept into China decades ago, sensing a sales bonanza in a populous country that had little local manufacturing capability. But now the wheel has turned. New Chinese automakers have learned how to build automobiles very well. Those new companies — especially BYD — are thriving, but Chinese customers are beginning to show a strong preference for domestic brands.
Ford CEO Jim Farley said this week that his company needs to rethink its sales and manufacturing strategy for China, considering its hyper-competitive market for electric vehicles. “We’re going to have to rethink what the Ford brand means in a place like China,” Farley told reporters on Thursday evening in Detroit, speaking on the sidelines of a charity event. “It can’t be like middle of the market. It’s totally over-filled.”
Sales of Ford-branded cars in China were down in the first quarter, as were sales and market share for other established global automakers. In contrast, sales of domestic electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles boomed, led by BYD.
According to Reuters, Farley said it was notable that the only premium brands succeeding in China were all-electric from the start and had a focus on the “digital experience.” He singled out domestic companies such as XPeng, Nio, and Li Auto as companies that are getting it right. “The differentiation really comes down to technology and services,” Farley said. “They’re all beautiful. All of these vehicles are so beautiful. Go to China.”
Farley said Chinese automakers are also facing intense competition in the market for two-row electric SUVs, a segment where Tesla also competes with the Model Y. “They have so much overcapacity in the two-door crossover that the amount of money those companies are losing and burning is incredible,” he said of the Chinese brands. “That’s why they’re going big on Europe. Europe is a premium export market. They’re all going there.”
Farley had high praise for BYD, which dominates the market for EVs and plug-in hybrids in China. “There is one huge company that is so impressive — BYD. They’re in a totally different world than Tesla. They’re totally vertically integrated, completely, all the way to batteries. No one is doing that on the globe.”
At the Shanghai auto show this week, BYD unveiled the Seagull, its new electric hatchback that has rocked analysts and industry executives with its combination of design, battery range, and price. The entry-level version of the Seagull will start from 78,000 yuan ($11,300). While initially it will be equipped with a 32 kWh Blade LFP battery, there are reports in the Chinese press that the Seagull might be the first model from BYD to use its new sodium-ion battery pack later this year.
Ford is investing tens of billions of dollars to prepare itself for the electric car future, and presumably those investments will pay off in terms of future sales. But Farley’s remarks are a bit of a cloud on the horizon for it and other legacy automakers in China.
Who can predict the future? If tensions in the Taiwan Strait boil over, Chinese customers could shun all foreign manufacturers, and where would that leave Tesla? Xi Jinping has a fondness for kneecapping his friends (see Jack Ma). Imagine what could happen to Elon Musk and company if relations between China and the rest of the world turn sour? It isn’t easy navigating the treacherous economic cross currents swirling in the world today.
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