Ford Motor Co.

Ford's Wayne, Dearborn Plants Get $1.45 Billion in New Tech

Dec. 17, 2019
The Dearborn and Wayne plants will also see 3,000 new production jobs to augment autonomy and electric vehicle manufacturing.

The only thing better than a plant investment to spice up the holidays? Two new (and futuristic) plant investments.

Ford announced today that it would invest a total of $1.45 billion in two Southeast Michigan plants and create 3,000 union production jobs. The investment will go toward production of new hybrid and electric vehicles, a new electric battery assembly facility and a facility to modify Ford Bronco and Ranger trucks and SUVs with self-driving technology and interiors compatible with autonomous driving. 

At its Wayne, Michigan assembly plant, Ford will invest $750 million in production equipment and an autonomous modification center and add 2,700 jobs over the next three years. The Wayne center “will be the first of its kind for Ford and will drive synergies with the company’s existing AV research functions in Dearborn and Detroit,” a Ford press release stated.

At its Dearborn truck plant, which manufacturers F-150 and Raptor trucks, Ford will add 300 jobs and invest $700 million to manufacture electrified F-150s—both hybrids and full electric models. The investment includes a new facility to assemble battery cells into battery packs for the electrified vehicles.

The announcement wasn’t a total surprise: It followed Ford’s promise in UAW contract negotiations this fall to invest $700 million in Dearborn and $1.1 billion in Wayne, along with “creating and retaining” 8,500 jobs at U.S. plants.

Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president, automotive, said in a statement that the company was “investing aggressively in building on our strengths today”—trucks and SUVs among those strengths—"while “expanding our leadership into electric and autonomous vehicles.” Ford announced earlier this year that it was dedicating 91% of its capital to developing and manufacturing trucks and SUVs, up from 64% from 2016 to 2018.

Ford may not be as far along as Google's Waymo or General Motors' Cruise in their autonomous strategy, says Carla Bailo, president and CEO of the Center for Automotive Research, but they've made inroads with their autonomous team at their Corktown Campus in Detroit and autonomous pilots with delivery services for Walmart and others. Having a manufacturing hub for autonomy at the Wayne plant could complement that work.

"Having a place where they can start to develop these products, manufacture them and then be able to go out and do more pilots is a good thing,” Bailo says—“and then bringing that learning back into the manufacturing environment and into the artificial intelligence [area].”

Bailo finds it interesting that Ford's plan is to use hybrid vehicles rather than electric for its autonomy retrofitting, "but I think they're probably looking for the [high] power demands that are required for autonomy" and hybrid would bring an extra power boost.

With Ford’s investment in Rivian and the boom in e-commerce—where vehicles are going shorter distances with lots of starts and stop—ramping up production of electric versions of their full-size trucks and SUVs could pay off even in the near term, says Bailo.  

Ford's Wayne assembly plant currently has 3,000 employees, including 2,800 hourly. It was retooled in 2018 to shift from production of the Ford Focus compact to the Ranger. The Dearborn Truck has 4,400 employees, 4,200 of them hourly.

All told, in the 2019 UAW contract, Ford agreed to invest $6 billion in its U.S. factories.  

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