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.”