Flat Rock

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next few years, Hall said. That’s in ad­di­tion to the $700 mil­lion the com­pany said in Jan­uary it would in­vest to build electrics along­side self-driv­ers. It will add 250 more jobs above the 700 that had been promised ear­lier.

Hall said Ford is pre­par­ing Flat Rock for greater pro­duc­tion vol­ume of the self-driving ve­hi­cle that will come to mar­ket in 2021. Man­u­fac­tur­ing the bat­tery-elec­tric SUV there wouldn’t have al­lowed the com­pany to ex­pand as much as it might need, so ex­ec­u­tives de­cided to build the SUV at Ford’s Cuau­ti­tlán Stamp­ing and As­sem­bly Plant in Mex­ico.

The change comes af­ter Ford in Jan­uary an­nounced it was scrap­ping plans to build a $1.6 bil­lion in plant in Mex­ico, where it would have built the next-gen­er­a­tion Ford Fo­cus. Former CEO Mark Fields said then the com­pany would in­stead in­vest $700 mil­lion at Flat Rock to make an elec­tric SUV and a hy­brid-elec­tric au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle. The com­pany said then that the Fo­cus would be built at an ex­ist­ing plant in Mex­ico.

In June, those plans changed. Un­der new CEO Jim Hack­ett, the next-gen­er­a­tion Fo­cus will be built in China and im­ported to the U.S. It will be the first time Ford will im­port Chi­nese-made vehicles to the U.S. Ford said the change in plans will save the com­pany $1 bil­lion.

The switch ap­peared not to have reg­is­tered with Trump, who has been known to is­sue tweet-at­tacks when an au­tomaker an­nounces for­eign man­u­fac­tur­ing plans.

The com­pany has said mov­ing pro­duc­tion of the Fo­cus to China will not re­sult in any job cuts for U.S. hourly em­ploy­ees at the Michi­gan As­sem­bly Plant where it’s cur­rently pro­duced. That plant in Wayne will be con­verted to make the new Ranger pickup start­ing in late 2018 and the new Bronco SUV in 2020 once Fo­cus pro­duc­tion is moved.

The all-new hy­brid elec­tric name­plate to be built at Flat Rock will func­tion as Ford’s au­ton­o­mous fleet ve­hi­cle. In a Wed­nes­day evening blog post, Jim Far­ley, Ford ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and pres­i­dent of global mar­kets, wrote that the new ve­hi­cle will be “com­mer­cial grade” and “de­signed for pur­pose.”

The com­pany cur­rently tests its suite of sen­sors and soft­ware for the au­ton­o­mous vehicles on hy­brid Ford Fu­sions.

Far­ley wrote Ford will sup­ply vehicles to part­ners based on their needs.

“Next year will be an im­por- tant time for us as we be­gin to test both our self-driving tech­nol­ogy and business model in a va­ri­ety of pilot pro­grams in the first city in which we plan to op­er­ate an au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle business,” Far­ley wrote. “I can’t wait to share more with you about our plans and promise to do so through­out this jour­ney we’re on to cre­ate the fu­ture.”

The Ford plan there is still vague, and there is not much clar­ity on what stage of de­vel­op­ment the au­tomaker is at with those vehicles. That’s hurt­ing it now, but could make it eas­ier for the au­tomaker to im­press in­vestors and po­ten­tial cus­tomers with what­ever it does come to mar­ket with, Brauer said.

Far­ley’s em­pha­sis on a cre­at­ing a self-driving com­mer­cial fleet ve­hi­cle that can run 20 hours per day does hint that Ford’s not go­ing to be look­ing to sell an in­di­vid­ual a pricey au­ton­o­mous car any­time soon. The first vehicles will be too ex­pen­sive to mar­ket to in­di­vid­ual cus­tomers.

“They prob­a­bly know there’s no mar­ket for a $100,000 or $200,000 au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle right now,” Brauer said. “But there may be a mar­ket for a $30,000 or $40,000 or $50,000 one in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture.”

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