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Ford Will Roll Out Self-Driving Cars At New Facility In Two Years

Ford said yesterday that it will begin to produce autonomous, hybrid vehicles in 2021 at a new $50 million plant in southeast Michigan, where it will install the self-driving technology into vehicles manufactured elsewhere.

“Ford is still considering where to build the AV finishing center and has not said how many people will work there,” writes CNBC’s Phil LeBeau.

“In addition to the autonomous vehicle production center, Ford said it planned to expand its production capacity at an existing plant in Flat Rock, Mich., where it will continue to make its Mustang car. The company said it intended to invest more than $850 million in the Flat Rock factory and start production on new electric vehicle models there by 2023,” writes Tiffany Hsu for the New York Times . “The effort will create 900 new jobs in the next few years, the vast majority of them at the Flat Rock plant, the company said.”

“Under the original plans announced in 2017, Ford was going to build the Mustang-inspired electric SUV, the next-gen EVs, and self-driving cars at the Flat Rock plant. Ford said the shakeup is due to an expected increase in demand for EVs in the coming years,” writes Viknesh Vijayenthiran for Motor Authority .

“As sales of traditional sedans have dwindled, Ford is preparing for a future when electric vehicles and self-driving cars transform transportation. The Flat Rock factory has become a symbol of that change: Ford is cutting a shift of workers because of slow sales of the Continental and Mustang, but will now create new jobs to build battery-powered vehicles,” Keith Naughton writes for Bloomberg .

“When we stepped back and looked at our plans for the future with battery-electric vehicles and electrification in general and the commitment to $11 billion in investment, it was very clear to us over the last year or so that we were going to need a second plant,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of global operations, tells Naughton. “It became pretty clear to us that Flat Rock was the right plant to have that capacity. It has a lot of experience building multiple different things.”

“At the heart of the company’s electrification effort is its Corktown project , a massive 1.2 million-square-foot space dedicated to its electric and autonomous vehicles businesses. The goal of Corktown is to create a ‘mobility corridor’ — Ford’s version of its own Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley — that ties hubs of research, testing and development in the academic hub of Ann Arbor to Ford’s Dearborn headquarters, and finally to Detroit,” writes Kirsten Korosec for TechCrunch .

That said, EVs are still more of an aspiration than a major presence on our roads.

“Car companies are pivoting to electric vehicles despite uncertainty over consumer demand. U.S. sales of electric and plug-in hybrid cars surged 81% last year to about 360,000 vehicles — driven mostly by a big increase for Tesla Inc. products — but electrics still accounted for just 2% of overall sales, according to research site InsideEVs.com,” Mike Colias writes for the Wall Street Journal .

“Mr. Hinrichs said the company’s outlook for electric-car sales has improved, partly because its research suggests younger buyers are more open to the technology. He said Ford must stay flexible to respond to demand that will be influenced by many factors, including gas prices, government incentives and future regulations on fuel economy and tailpipe emissions,” Colias adds.

Yesterday’s news “comes just after a three-day string of venomous tweets by President Donald Trump condemning crosstown rival General Motors for shutting down its small-car factory in Lordstown, Ohio, east of Cleveland. Trump demanded that GM reopen the plant, criticized the local union leader and expressed frustration with GM CEO Mary Barra,” the AP’s Tom Krisher writes .

“Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of global operations, wouldn’t directly answer questions about whether Trump’s actions influenced the moves, but said Wednesday that the investment is part of the company’s plans to run its business more efficiently. The timing of the announcement was due to requirements that parts suppliers be notified of manufacturing plans, Hinrichs said.”

Trump, meanwhile, took the occasion to tweet : “Great news from @Ford! … Companies are pouring back into the United States — they want to be where the action is!”

“The announcement comes amid an overhaul of Ford’s lineup of vehicles,” Hamza Shaban reminds us in the Washington Post . “Last year, it unveiled ambitious plans to transform its product portfolio, moving away from passenger cars and toward SUVs, hybrids and electric cars. Ford has dedicated $11.1 billion in investments to produce battery-powered electric vehicles. By 2022, the company plans to bring 16 such vehicles to market.”

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