Ford is building a new plant in Michigan for autonomous vehicles as the company realigns some factories to focus on its future lineup of self-driving and electric cars.
The new facility, scheduled to open in the next two years, will take new commercial-grade hybrid models and incorporate the self-driving technology needed to turn them into autonomous vehicles. Ford is still considering where to build the AV finishing center and has not said how many people will work there.
"This facility will be about more than just putting the brains into these autonomous vehicles," said Joe Hinrichs, Ford's president of global operations. "We will use the AV production center to upgrade the interiors and add the technology customers will want for a particular self-driving model."
The new autonomous vehicle, or AV, facility is part of a $900 million investment Ford announced in 2017 to restructure its manufacturing footprint in Michigan. Ultimately, it's expected to create up to 900 new jobs by 2023. That includes adding a second shift in 2023 at the company's final assembly plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, to build an all-electric vehicle the company has yet to announce. That 2023 model is part of Ford's plan increase sales of electric vehicles, including a brand-new electric SUV scheduled to roll out next year. It will be built at a Ford plant in Mexico.
Ford's development of autonomous and electric vehicles is at the core of CEO Jim Hackett's plan to remake the automaker. Since taking over as chief executive in 2017, Hackett has been criticized by analysts for moving too slow to reposition Ford as the auto industry shifts to new technology and focuses more attention on electric vehicles. Earlier this year, Ford announced a partnership with Volkswagen to share the costs of developing AVs and EVs.
Hinrichs believes Ford's plan to expand production of electric vehicles in Michigan four years from now will be well-timed for the changing tastes of car buyers. "We see more consumers interested in electric vehicles. Plus the capabilities of the batteries and the technology is getting better," he said.