Ford Motor Company will open a $ 185 million R&D battery lab to develop and manufacture battery cells and batteries, with the first step toward the automaker possibly building the battery cell in-house. The feature comes as another sign for consumers and other automakers that the auto giant is no longer placing its bets on converting electric vehicles to batteries.
When Ford could measure its battery manufacturing, company officials declined to provide a timeline, but it is clear that the company intends to make the facility the basis for such a future.
Ford Ion Park will be located in southeast Michigan and will be home to more than 150 employees in battery technology development, research and manufacturing. The facility will likely be about 200,000 square feet and will open in late 2022. The facility will be backed by Ford’s battery testing laboratories in nearby Allen Park, Michigan, which is already testing battery cell manufacturing and chemistry. Also nearby are Ford’s product development center in Dearborn and Ford’s battery cell assembly and e-motor plant in Rossville.
The new facility will be headed by Anand Sankaran, who is currently the Ford Director of Electrified Systems Engineering. He described it as a “learning lab” to create “cell-scale and pilot-scale assemblies of cells”, including the next gen-lithium-ion and solid-state batteries.
Ford is thinking about transitioning to BEVs in stages, explained Hou Thai Tang, Ford’s chief product platform and operations officer. In this first phase, when BEVs are being largely purchased by early adopters, Ford is working with external supplier partners. The company is now preparing for phase two, when Ford will bring more products to market and take market share in BEV. “So in preparation for that next transition to Phase II, we want to give Ford the flexibility and ultimately the option to integrate vertically,” Tang said.
“Our plans to lead the electric revolution will certainly depend on the progress that we make on battery energy density, as well as cost,” Tang said on Tuesday.
“Tang said the formation of the Ford Eon Park team is an important promoter for Ford to integrate and manufacture batteries in the future.” “This will help us to better control our supply and deliver high volume battery cells with high range, low cost and high quality.”
This would be a major boost for domestic manufacturing of battery cells, dominating companies in Asia such as Panasonic (Tesla’s main supplier), South Korea-based LG Chem and SK Innovation, Ford’s current battery cell supplier. Executives said the global epidemic and the lack of semiconductors have highlighted the importance of locally and domestically controlled chains.
“We know in terms of batteries, this is a very capital-intensive business,” Tang said. “The best Tier One suppliers in the world spend a large part of their revenue on R&D spending, and then the capital expenditure required to build and erect a battery plant is quite high. So as we think about this, the scale and volume for which we need sites dedicated to Ford is a big consideration, and we’ve talked about how fast we are seeing this change. We are at a point where, now, there are enough scales for us to entertain greater levels of vertical integration at some point. “