The cab is lowered onto the tire of a battery-powered F-150 Lightning truck at Ford’s Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, Michigan.
Dearborn (United States) (AFP) – Construction crews are back in Dearborn to recreate the century-old Ford industrial complex once again, this time for the post-petroleum era that is finally beginning to feel possible.
The main task of the manufacturing process in recent times has been the assembly of the best-selling F-150, a gasoline-powered vehicle.
The truck manufacturer produces a new pickup every 53 seconds in a well-oiled process that will last for the foreseeable future.
But in September 2020, Ford set out to build a smaller facility on adjacent land, tasking the new operation with building a battery-electric cousin to the F-150’s internal combustion engine (ICE).
The F-150 Lightning is part of a growing fleet of battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs) hitting the roads from well-known automakers and startups.
At the Detroit Auto Show last week, President Joe Biden declared that “the great American road trip will be all-electric.”
After raising about 200,000 reservations for the Lightning, Ford announced expansions to quadruple production over the next year.
Will there be a tipping point where lightning can overtake the Ice Form? That’s a question on the minds of officials at Ford and rival Detroit automakers who are investing billions of dollars in BEVs while still producing millions of ICEs.
“The industry is changing very quickly, and I don’t think anyone has a good prediction of where it is,” Ford’s Chris Skaggs told AFP.
“But we are interacting and getting the right resources to build the batteries and expand so we can meet demand whatever that is,” said Skaggs, the veteran Ford COO who is leading the expansion of the BEV plant.
Chris Skaggs, Director of BEV Planning and Execution at Ford Motor Co. At the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, Michigan
“I’ve been doing this for 29 years, and I thought I’d retire before we got to this point.”
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Lightning represents the latest renovation of the Dearborn Rouge industrial complex south of Detroit near the Rouge River.
The Rouge plant was built between 1917 and 1928 and was originally planned to include all components in automobile production, including tire making, vehicle assembly, steel making, and engine building.
The peak of employment exceeded 100,000 in the 1930s, a decade that also saw artist Diego Rivera make visits to his famous murals of Auto Workers.
The complex was recruited to build fighter jets for the Allies in World War II before assembling popular Ford cars like the Thunderbird and Mustang, which were launched in the 1960s and are now assembled at a different plant in Michigan.
Waiting for a battery to be attached to the tire of an electric F-150 Lightning truck
The Rouge site—a longstanding symbol of the moving assembly line that changed manufacturing history—began to look like a white elephant as Ford’s flow later in the 20th century made pollution its location in a brown field.
But William Clay Ford Jr., grandson of Henry Ford, refused to close it, authorizing a $2 billion promotion shortly after taking over as chairman in 1999.
The Dearborn Truck plant opened in 2004 after extensive environmental clean-up and the installation of a “live roof” to make heating and cooling more efficient.
– ‘Flexible’ capacity –
The younger Ford, who defined Rouge as “our heritage,” faced an internal decline in Dearborn’s investment, which coincided with a financially difficult period.
But it would be hard to find fault with the continued power of the F-150, which has been the best-selling car in the United States for four decades.
There are three shifts at the Dearborn truck assembly plant, which operates around the clock and has 4,500 employees.
The vehicle assembly process begins when the aluminum coils are stamped into the panels on site. The panels are assembled in the bodywork workshop and then painted before making their way to the assembly line.
The truck then travels through hundreds of workstations where the engine and other components are installed, and is then subjected to testing including wheel alignment, headlights, camera-based and electronic computer checks once before shipping to the customer.
F-150 fuel trucks in production
Ford doesn’t publish daily production numbers, but each car is assembled in hours once it reaches the factory, Skaggs said.
In contrast to the bustling ICE truck plant, the BEV plant operates modestly, a quality due in part to the company’s focus on ergonomics.
The BEV assembly process is also organized around production lines, but there are fewer workstations in the process still preparing for bigger things. The Rouge Electric Vehicle Center currently employs approximately 500 people.
Skaggs said the expansion will double the size of the BEV plant and add more workers and workstations, bringing production to 150,000 annually by next fall.
But Skaggs said the additional throughput would be “flexible,” meaning it could be used in either an ICE or an on-demand BEV.
“If we don’t call it right, we can build more ICEs…or if the BEV really takes off as we all expect it to, we can scale that.”