Ford pickup expansion potentially great news for Windsor
The Windsor Star/Doug Schmidt
DETROIT — The return to production of two Ford truck classics could spell great news for Windsor’s automotive manufacturing sector, analysts say.
“Clearly, there’s customer demand for it,” Ford executive chairman Bill Ford said of the re-introduction of the Ranger mid-size pickup truck in 2019 and the Bronco 4×4 sport utility in 2020. Both will be built in Michigan, Ford told thousands of journalists gathered at Joe Louis Arena Monday during media day at this year’s North American International Auto Show.
The best thing about Monday’s announcement, Canadian observers said, is that it involves additional new product and not simply new versions of existing vehicle models.
“New manufacturing going to Michigan is always good news for suppliers in Ontario,” said Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association. He said up to 30 per cent of parts used on new automotive production lines in Michigan are usually sourced in Ontario, with at least a quarter-billion dollars of annual purchases that can be expected.
While the company didn’t divulge details on production numbers or even the types of engines that will go into the new vehicles, Tony Faria, an auto industry analyst at the University of Windsor, said the proximity to the assembly plant “suits Ontario very well.”
“It’s always good news to have any automotive production take place, if not in Ontario, then close to Ontario,” said Faria.
News of the new vehicle production at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant comes a week after Ford scrapped plans for a new US$1.6-billion Ford Focus plant in Mexico and announced instead it would put US$700 million into its Flat Rock Assembly Plant to build new hybrid and electric vehicles there.
All of that “has to be good news for the whole area,” including Windsor, said WardsAuto associate editor Bob Gritzinger.
Ford executives were also coy about whether this week’s announcements might directly impact the company’s engine plant operations in Windsor. A new engine product was part of the $613-million Windsor investment commitment Ford made to Unifor as part of the latest four-year contract agreement ratified in November.
“We’ll talk about it more going forward, but it’s coming,” company CEO and president Mark Fields told the Star when asked for Windsor details after the formal presentation. Ford employs 1,400 workers at its Essex Engine and Windsor Engine plants in Windsor.
“Canada’s been a great place for us for many, many years, and I don’t see that changing,” Ford told a separate scrum of reporters.
Much of the loud, colourful and splashy big-stage Ford presentation to the world’s automotive press focused on the company’s emerging vision for improved mobility in an increasingly urbanized world, along with the future of autonomous and electric vehicles.
Ford said it will have 13 “electrified” vehicles over the next five years, thanks to a US$4.5-billion investment, including electric versions of its top-selling F-150 pickup and the Mustang, along with a high-volume, fully autonomous vehicle (without steering wheel, gas or brake pedals).
Technology-driven advances are “changing the way the world moves,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas. Bill Ford, pointing out that three-quarters of the world’s population will be living in 30 mega-cities, said the time frame on autonomous vehicles “keeps shrinking — it’s happening quickly.”
Ford is partnering with a growing number of cities around the globe and working now with local governments to help solve congestion and other municipal transportation challenges. Last fall, Ford purchased Chariot, a San Francisco-based commuter ride-sharing startup that could change the way municipal transit systems operate. Riders themselves determine the route of each commute using smaller carriers such as Ford’s five- to seven-passenger Transit Connect.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said such talk is “very, very exciting” for a city such as Windsor, which for years has been trying to expand public transit into the county.
Dilkens was at the auto show to meet with new Ford of Canada president Mark Buzzell and to continue pushing for interest by the company in considering Windsor for future investment in autonomous vehicle research and manufacturing.
Despite its talk of alternative mobility, including mention of bicycle ride sharing to fight urban congestion, Ford remains a traditional motor vehicle company. Asked why it’s going back to Broncos (discontinued in 1996) and Rangers (last built in the States in 2011), Fields said it was simply good business: “(Sales of) small cars are declining in North America.”
Bill Ford, the great-grandson of the automaker’s founder, said he got his first Bronco when learning to drive and that the new one will be “a real off-road vehicle.… I’m happy it’s coming back.”