Ford Motor Co. has scaled back the variety of battery-electric models it plans to build at its Oakville, Ont. assembly plant, according to forecasting firm AutoForecast Solutions (AFS), as higher demand for EVs prompts changes to the company’s North American production plans.
The automaker pledged $1.8 billion in fall 2020 to retool the Oakville Assembly Complex starting in 2024. It had originally planned to build five fully electric models at the plant just west of Toronto, according to auto workers’ union Unifor and industry analysts.
But Sam Fiorani, vice-president of global vehicle forecasting at U.S.-based AFS, said as EV adoption gains traction, his forecast for the plant now includes just two vehicles: battery-electric versions of the Ford Explorer and Lincoln Aviator.
“They’re shuffling products around enough and figured the EV versions of the Explorer and the Aviator that are planned to go in there will be high enough volume to keep the plant busy,” he told Automotive News Canada.
Ford Canada did not respond to multiple requests for comment about its plans for Oakville.
But the company is sticking to its 2024 timeline on the retooling, said Dino Chiodo, director of auto at Unifor, which represents hourly workers at the plant.
Ford has provided the union few further specifics.
“They haven’t said on this month we’re doing this, on this month, we’re doing that,” Chiodo said. “They haven’t really done anything in the plant as of yet. They’re doing some superficial stuff — just some behind-the-scenes preparing — but that’s really it.”
Fiorani’s latest forecast of two BEV models for Oakville is a change from what Unifor shared following 2020 contract negotiations with Ford, but does not run afoul of the two parties’ collective agreement.
In September 2020, former union President Jerry Dias said the Oakville plant would be building five BEV models following its 2024 retooling. The contract with Ford, however, stipulates that the plant will transition to BEV production, but does not include a specific number of models that will go into the plant.
Fiorani expects production of the Oakville plant’s current products, the Lincoln Nautilus and Ford Edge, will run until the end of 2023 and beginning of 2024, respectively.
“That’ll leave the plant open for almost a year as they tool up for the new models,” he said, noting BEV production is expected to start in December 2024.
Despite the long lead time, early work on the retooling process at the plant that employs about 3,600 is already under way.
An Ontario automotive supplier that is not authorized to speak publicly on the topic, said Ford has begun to award contracts for in-plant work tied to the $1.8 billion project.
Unifor expects further details on the retooling project to be available as the timeline narrows, Chiodo said.
BATTERY PACKS POSSIBLE
In addition to the two SUVs, the Oakville plant may also produce battery packs.
As it announced $295 million in provincial funding for the retooling project in 2020, the Ontario government said work in Oakville would include the installation of a battery pack production line. Ford Canada, however, was more cautious. At the time, former CEO Dean Stoneley said the investment brings the “opportunity” for such a line in Oakville.
Battery pack assembly is typically the final stage of the EV battery production process when battery modules made up of individual battery cells are packaged into larger packs that are ready to be installed in vehicles.
Fiorani said anticipated volumes of the Explorer and Aviator should leave some floorspace at the Oakville plant open, which could be dedicated to battery pack production.
“The plant has in the past built as many as 300,000 vehicles,” and is likely to only produce about 230,000 of the two new SUVs annually, he said.
CORRECTION: A headline on previous version of this story incorrectly identified one of the two products forecast to be assembled at Ford Oakville. The plant will build the Ford Explorer and the Lincoln Aviator, according to AutoForecast Solutions.