The Ford Motor Co. gave the auto industry a jolt Monday with word that it plans to spend $11.4 billion on new production sites in Tennessee and Kentucky where it plans to build electric pickup trucks and cars — and the batteries to power them — on a massive scale.
It will also create 11,000 jobs in the two states that have struggled to recover from the collapse of the coal industry.
The audacity of Ford’s massive investment in electric vehicles was not lost on Ford Executive Chair Bill Ford.
“If my great-grandfather saw our industry five years ago, it would be very recognizable to him, it hadn’t changed a lot,” he said of the Ford founder, Henry Ford, in an interview with Tom Costello on "NBC Nightly News."
“There were a lot of evolutions, but no revolutions. Now we’re on the cusp of a revolution. It’s not just the electrification, although that’s a huge piece of it.”
It’s also a chance, Ford said in a statement, to “achieve goals once thought mutually exclusive — protect our planet, build great electric vehicles Americans will love, and contribute to our nation’s prosperity.”
Of those new jobs, 6,000 are destined for what’s being called the Blue Oval City campus in Stanton, Tennessee, a $5.6 billion megacampus where electric versions of the popular F-series pickup truck will be manufactured, along with electric batteries.
This new assembly plant “is designed to be carbon neutral with zero waste-to-landfill once fully operational,” Ford said in a statement.
“This is a watershed moment for Tennesseans as we lead the future of the automotive industry and advanced manufacturing,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, said.
The remaining 5,000 new jobs are heading to Glendale, Kentucky, and the $5.8 billion BlueOvalSK Battery Park, where batteries to power the “next-generation electric Ford and Lincoln vehicles” will be manufactured at two sites on the campus starting in 2025.
“This is the single largest investment in the history of our state,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, said. “Never again will we be thought of as a flyover state. Our time is now. Our future is now.”
Ford said the United States doesn’t have a big battery manufacturing industry, and there was a reason why his company decided to establish a “beachhead” in two states where coal was once king.
“The one thing that also attracted us to both Tennessee and Kentucky is the workforce,” he said. “They both have really good workforces and are willing to be trained to do these jobs and that was a big consideration.”
Tennessee and Kentucky are so-called right to work states where workers aren’t required to join unions as a condition of employment.
The company is also setting aside another $525 million to train the technicians across the country who will work to service its new fleet of electric-powered vehicles. Of that training money, $90 million will be spent in Texas alone.
Ford projected that by 2030, some 40 percent of his company's vehicles will be electric. He vowed to make believers out of the skeptics who fear a switch to electric from internal combustion engines means sacrificing power.
“I actually don't think it'll be that hard once, once they see what these vehicles can do,” Ford said. “For instance, they're faster than lightning, so to speak off the line, they're very quick, faster than anything else that's out there.”
The new battery-powered Ford Mustang Mach-E, which can go from zero to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, is going to be road-tested by the Michigan State Police, he said.
Also, Ford said, there are some things an electric vehicle can do that a gas-powered ride can’t do.
“For instance, it can be a backup generator for your house,” he said. “If you lose power, you plug your house into your (F-150) Lightning and you can power your house up to three days. Also, it can be a portable generator at worksite.”
When Ford was asked what his great-grandfather would think of “your new Model T for the 21st Century.”
“I think he’d say, ‘What took you so long?'” Ford replied.