Ford’s first wave of autonomous vehicles will be produced at a new center in southeast Michigan, the company announced Wednesday, as part of a $900 million investment to reshape its manufacturing operations in the state.
Workers there will begin installing self-driving technology into hybrid vehicles in 2021, the company said.
“As we ramp up AV production, this plan allows us to adjust our investment spending to accommodate the pace of growth of this exciting new technology,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of global operations, said in a news release. "This new plan combines our core strength in mass manufacturing with the agility and leanness we’ve shown with our modification centers for specialty manufacturing.”
Ford’s wider restructuring in Michigan is projected to create 900 jobs in the next four years. The automaker plans to expand capacity at its Flat Rock assembly plant, which will become the production center for its next battery-powered, fully electric vehicles.
The announcement comes amid an overhaul of Ford’s lineup of vehicles. Last year, it unveiled ambitious plans to transform its product portfolio, moving away from passenger cars and toward SUVs, hybrids and electric cars. Ford has dedicated $11.1 billion in investments to produce battery-powered electric vehicles. By 2022, the company plans to bring 16 such vehicles to market.
Ford, like many of its rivals in the U.S. and abroad, is facing pressure from tech-powered newcomers like Uber and Google’s sister company Waymo, which are racing to develop driverless technologies. Tesla’s all-electric fleet also has likely hastened car makers’ plans to produce vehicles that don’t rely on internal combustion engines.
In January, Ford and Volkswagen announced a partnership to design and produce cars for each other. The alliance was forged to save the companies millions of dollars in development costs for pickup trucks and transit vehicles, with the possibility to collaborate on electric and self-driving cars.
Ford executives previously said the company would release the first electric vehicle since the Focus Electric in 2020. Volkswagen expects to offer an electrified version of all its models by 2030.
Ford said it will invest $50 million in the new autonomous vehicle center.