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Ford Investing $550M to Retool SUV Plant to Produce Focus Small Car and EV

Ford Motor Company is investing $550 million to transform its Michigan Assembly Plant into a flexible manufacturing complex that will build Ford’s next-generation Focus global small car along with a new battery-electric version of the Focus for the North American market. (Earlier post.) The 2.866 million square-foot plant was built in 1957.

The plant, formerly the Michigan Truck Plant and the production site for Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigators SUVs, is one of three North American light truck plants Ford is retooling to build fuel-efficient global small cars in the coming years. The new Focus will begin rolling off the line next year and the battery-electric version of the Focus—Ford’s first all-electric passenger car—debuts in 2011.

As part of the retooling, Ford will consolidate its operations from Wayne Assembly Plant. When production launches in 2010, approximately 3,200 employees will be building the new Focus at Michigan Assembly Plant. At the plant, Ford and United Auto Workers are developing modern new operating practices to ensure high quality and even greater efficiency.

“We’re changing from a company focused mainly on trucks and SUVs to a company with a balanced product lineup that includes even more high-quality, fuel-efficient small cars, hybrids and all-electric vehicles.”
—Mark Fields,
Ford president of The Americas

The transformation of Michigan Assembly, once one of the world’s most profitable auto plants during the SUV boom of the late 1990s, is rooted in the fundamental strategic shift by Ford to leverage its global assets to bring six world-class small cars to the American market by the end of 2012. To produce the vehicles, Ford is converting three truck and SUV plants to car plants—Michigan Assembly, Cuautitlan Assembly in Mexico, which begins building the new Fiesta subcompact early next year; and Louisville (Ky.) Assembly, which will be converted to produce small vehicles from Ford’s global Focus platform beginning in 2011.

The new Focus is being developed in Europe—where Ford is a leader in small cars—off a new global C-car platform. Over time, the new platform will be the basis for more than 2 million units annually around the world, including Focus and other derivatives, allowing Ford to leverage economies of scale to improve investment efficiency.

The zero-emission Focus battery-electric vehicle, which is being developed in partnership with Magna International, features a high-voltage electric motor powered by a high-capacity lithium-ion battery pack and charged by plugging in to a 110-volt or 220-volt outlet. The vehicle is one part of a larger strategy Ford announced in January to develop electric vehicles for North America quickly and affordably by leveraging its global platform capability.

In addition to the Focus battery electric vehicle, Ford is collaborating with Smith Electric to sell a Transit Connect battery electric commercial vehicle for North America in 2010. Ford’s product plans also include a next-generation hybrid vehicle in 2012 and a plug-in hybrid vehicle in 2012.

The $550 million investment in Michigan Assembly includes more than $430 million in manufacturing investment at the site, as well as $120 million for launch and engineering costs. In addition, Ford will be making significant investment in supplier tooling to support the plant.

The state of Michigan, Wayne County and the city of Wayne contributed more than $160 million in tax credits and grants to support Ford’s expansion opportunities. Key elements include:

  • Tax incentives based on job retention at the site;
  • A Brownfield tax incentive for economic rehabilitation of the site;
  • Tax incentives to support integration of advanced batteries into new product development programs; and
  • Local property tax incentives for new investments at the site.

Michigan Assembly Plant will be designated as the state’s first automotive technology anchor site. This designation will support Ford’s efforts by providing additional tax incentives to locate advanced technology suppliers in Michigan, related to future automotive technology applications.

At the heart of Michigan Assembly’ manufacturing transformation is a flexible body shop operation, which uses re-programmable tooling in the body shop, standardized equipment in the paint shop and a common-build sequence in final assembly, enabling production of multiple models in the same plant.

Aiding in the implementation of flexible manufacturing is Ford’s virtual manufacturing technology. In the virtual world, engineers and plant operators evaluate tooling and product interfaces before costly installations are made on the plant floor. This method of collaboration improves launch quality and enables speed of execution.

In a flexible body shop, at least 80% of the robotic equipment can be programmed to weld various sized vehicles. This non-product specific equipment gives the body shop its flexibility and provides more efficient use of the facility.

The plant also will employ an efficient, synchronous material flow, where the material will move in kits to each operator, providing employees with the tools they need in the sequence they will need them. The plant features an integrated stamping facility, which allows the stamping and welding of all large sheet-metal parts on-site, ensuring maximum quality and minimum overhead.

Along with the physical transformation at Michigan Assembly Plant, the UAW and Ford are working on a framework of new and class-leading operating practices that will enable the plant to operate at a high level of productivity while producing best-in-class quality products in a safe work environment.

The transformation of Michigan Assembly Plant embodies the larger transformation under way at Ford. This is about investing in modern, efficient and flexible American manufacturing. It is about fuel economy and the electrification of vehicles. It is about leveraging our expertise and vehicle platforms around the world and partnering with the UAW to deliver best-in-class global small cars. It is about skilled and motivated teams working together in new ways to create the future of automobile manufacturing in the United States.

—Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally


Will S

Changes like this will become more frequent with those automakers who want to stay in business.

Dave R

It's really looking like 2011 will be the year of the electric car. I wish it was this year, though.


It's going to be hilarious to watch a ford focus owner turn their nose up and act all snooty to a Prius driver.

Will S

It would be more like camaraderie; they'd have far more in common than drivers of gashogs.


This could be a smart move by Ford even if it is 2 to 4 years late.

Can Ford catch up (all 14 years) with Toyota's Prius III with it's Focus by 2011? It is a tall order, but not imposible to do.

By 2011-2012 the Prius III PHEV and BEV should be available and most probably built in North America.

Interesting choices ahead for potential buyers looking for more efficient vehicles.


Harvey, Fords hybrid tech in the escape and the fusion is equal to and in the case of the fusion exceeds that of the the all might savior Toyota. So the main hang up is availability of batteries for these vehicles at a price that makes them profitable. This next generation Focus will be a global platform, more like the EU Focus. I personally think that battery electric vehicles are like hydrogen powered vehicles, they are the power source of the future and always will be.


First company that offers standard upgrade batteries packs to add on after you buy the car will get attention. People like to expand and upgrade, especially when the prices come down.

Andrey Levin

Ford is losing about 2000$ on every midsize car sold in US. Would be nice to know how Mullay is planning to avert the trend with 150B in debt, underfunded pension obligations, and UAW on his shoulders.


It's as though the auto industry has suddenly removed the blinders from their eyes and can see...finally. EV's are so much simpler than ICE vehicles. What could be more complex than an ICE and automatic transmission? The auto co's can make so much more money from EV's. And, sell them so much cheaper, have fewer recalls, etc.
Now it's just a matter of customer acceptance. But gas prices will soon do that job.


"What could be more complex than an ICE and automatic transmission?"

I don't know, but if you gave them 5 years 40 years ago they would have come up with something more complex :)

I like the range extender EV model. Now that the engine can run at constant speed and load, lots of new ideas can emerge.


Well said danm.

A simple copper wire from the battery, through the controller to the motor is the only transmission needed.


Ford's hybrid technology is equal to Toyota's because they licensed it from Toyota. And from this and the linked article it looks like Magna is doing all the actual EV work.

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