Ford and a partner company say they plan to build three major electric-vehicle battery factories and an auto assembly plant by 2025 — a dramatic investment in the future of EV technology that will create an estimated 10,800 jobs and shift the automaker’s future manufacturing footprint toward the South.
The factories, to be built on sites in Kentucky and Tennessee, will make batteries for the next generation of Ford and Lincoln electric vehicles that will be produced in North America. Combined, they mark the single largest manufacturing investment the 118-year-old company has ever made and are among the largest factory outlays in the world.
Notably, the new factories will provide a vast new supply of jobs that will likely pay solid wages. Most of the new jobs will be full time, with a relatively small percentage having temporary status to fill in for vacations and absent workers.
Together with its battery partner, SK Innovation of South Korea, Ford says it will spend $5.6 billion in rural Stanton, Tennessee, where it will build a factory to produce electric F-Series pickups. A joint venture called BlueOvalSK will construct a battery factory on the same site near Memphis, plus twin battery plants in Glendale, Kentucky, near Louisville. Ford estimated the Kentucky investment at $5.8 billion and that the company’s share of the total would be $7 billion.
With the new spending, Ford is making a significant bet on a future that envisions most drivers eventually making the shift to battery power from internal combustion engines, which have powered vehicles in the United States for more than a century. Should that transition run into disruptions or delays, the gamble could hit the company’s bottom line. Ford predicts 40% to 50% of its U.S. sales will be electric by 2030. For now, only about 1% of vehicles on America’s roads are powered by electricity.
In an interview Monday, CEO Jim Farley said it would be up to the workers at the new plants to decide whether to be represented by the United Auto Workers union. That question could set up an epic battle with union leaders, who want employees of the future to join the union and earn top UAW production wages of around $32 per hour. It represents a high-stakes test for the UAW, which will need jobs for thousands of members who will lose work in the transition away engines and transmissions for petroleum-powered vehicles.
Ford’s move also could put the company at odds with President Joe Biden’s quest to create “good-paying union jobs” in a new, greener economy.
Farley said it’s too early to talk about pay or unionization at the new factories. He stressed that Ford will maintain a geographic manufacturing balance when the company’s investments in Ohio and Michigan are included. Ford and General Motors have UAW-represented plants in Kentucky and Tennessee, states where it is common for political leaders to actively campaign against unionization.
“We love our UAW partners,” Farley said. “They’ve been incredible on this journey of electrification so far. But it’s up to the employees to decide.”
Just four months ago, Ford said it would build two new battery plants in North America. But Farley said demand for the electric Mustang Mach E SUV and over 150,000 orders for the F-150 electric pickup convinced the company to increase battery output.
Farley said Ford intends to lead the world in electric vehicles, a title now held by upstart Tesla Inc., which is adding jobs at a third factory now under construction near Austin, Texas.