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Ford plans $11bn electric pick-up truck investment with battery maker SK

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Ford Motor has set out plans to establish the industrial backbone of its emerging electric pick-up truck business, committing to spend $11bn alongside South Korea’s SK Innovation to build three plants to supply batteries and vehicles.

The units in the US states of Kentucky and Tennessee would employ almost 11,000 workers to produce battery-powered versions of Ford’s popular F-series trucks.

The automaker’s portion of the planned spending, $7bn, would be the largest investment Ford has made in manufacturing facilities in its 118-year history and totals just under a quarter of the $30bn that Ford has committed to spending on electrifying its fleet by 2025.

Ford and rivals General Motors and Stellantis stood alongside US President Joe Biden last month and promised that between 40 and 50 per cent of their vehicles sold would have zero emissions by the end of the decade. Biden has called for electric vehicles to account for half of all sales by 2030 in a bid to curtail tailpipe emissions.

Lisa Drake, Ford’s chief operating officer for North America, said the company anticipates that a third of pick-up truck sales industry-wide will be fully electric by 2030.

“This is a really pivotal moment for us in our country today,” she said. “We see a critical mass for the transition to battery electric vehicles right on the horizon,” she said.

With its investment, Ford is following GM, which is converting three factories to build electric vehicles and plans to open battery plants in Ohio and Tennessee. GM has committed to spending $35bn on electrification by 2025 as the auto industry shifts away from internal combustion engines.

The dollars from Ford and battery-maker SK Innovation will be divided roughly evenly between twin battery factories at a site in central Kentucky and an assembly plant located on a 6-square-mile “mega-campus” in western Tennessee that would include suppliers and battery recycling operations.

The Tennessee plant, dubbed Blue Oval City — a reference to Ford’s elliptical logo — will build electric versions of the best-selling F-150 truck and its larger cousins, the Super Duty models.

The F-150 with a traditional engine is currently made by 4,200 hourly workers at the Dearborn Truck plant, located at Ford’s historic industrial complex alongside Michigan’s River Rouge.

Founder Henry Ford built the complex a century ago to vertically integrate production of the company’s earliest vehicles. Ford has invested $950m at the Rouge complex to build another new factory to manufacture electric F-150s.

The Tennessee campus will be three times larger than the Rouge complex, and Ford said it would employ about 6,000 people. Both Tennessee and Kentucky have “right to work” laws, a union-weakening provision that allows workers to take jobs at a unionised employer without paying dues to the union.

The United Auto Workers has traditionally organised US auto plants and many of their suppliers. The labour union has worried that the shift to electric vehicles endangers benefits that autoworkers have won over the decades.

John Savona, Ford’s vice-president of manufacturing and labour affairs, said the new plants “will have the ability to choose whether they organise, and we respect and support their right to make that choice”.

Ford has received 150,000 reservations so far for the F-150 Lightning, including from customers who had never bought a Ford or a pick-up before, Drake said.

“It reinforced that we have the ability to grow an already very powerful franchise,” she said.

The Blue Oval City plant in Tennessee will begin production in 2025, as will the first of the two battery plants in Kentucky, Ford said. The second Kentucky plant will come online a year later.


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