It's unclear how soon Ford will assign the electric Explorer and Aviator — which share platforms — to a new plant, and analysts say factors such as a potential expansion of federal incentives for EVs made by unionized U.S. workers could play a role.
"It may be yet to be decided because those incentives aren't finalized," Stephanie Brinley, a principal analyst with IHS Markit, told sibling publication Automotive News. "But even those proposed incentives are still fundamentally short term, and this business will have to be able to survive without them. Ford is looking at where it can invest to build a car for longer than that."
Katelyn Drake, a senior analyst with LMC Automotive, and Sam Fiorani of AutoForecast Solutions, believe Oakville Assembly in suburban Toronto is the most likely landing spot for the Explorer and Aviator EVs.
Oakville currently builds the gasoline-powered Edge and Lincoln Nautilus crossovers, which are expected to be discontinued so the plant can be retooled for EV production in 2024. Ford promised to invest $1.8 billion in Oakville and build five electric models there by 2027 as part of its 2020 contract with Unifor, the Canadian auto workers union.
It would be the easiest fit, Drake said, since it's scheduled to use Ford's next-generation dedicated EV architecture and wouldn't require as much additional investment as other North American plants.
LMC expects Oakville will have capacity for roughly 200,000 EVs a year, allowing the Explorer and Aviator to slot alongside other nameplates.
Fiorani, AutoForecast's vice-president of global vehicle forecasting, said concentrating a number of EVs in Oakville also would make sense from a supply-chain perspective.
Ford doesn't plan to build the Explorer and Aviator EVs alongside their gasoline-powered counterparts in Chicago because that plant is near capacity with no room for expansion. A new EV assembly plant that will be part of the massive Blue Oval City complex Ford is building in Tennessee will make a next-generation F-Series product and won't come online until 2025.
Ford could consider building the electric crossovers in Ohio, where it previously planned to do so.
Ohio Assembly, west of Cleveland, builds some larger Super Duty pickups and E-Series vans. Ford in its 2019 contract with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union promised the plant would receive a US $900-million investment including a "next-generation product" in 2023, which Automotive News reported were the Explorer and Aviator EVs.
Ford shifted those plans to Mexico in 2019, prompting fiery criticism from Gerald Kariem, then-UAW vice-president. The automaker said it would keep its commitment to the Ohio plant by boosting Super Duty production there.
Should Ford flip-flop again by moving the work back to Ohio, Drake said it would need to spend big to convert the plant for EVs and boost its yearly capacity from 60,000 today. "Those are not insurmountable challenges," she said.
Another U.S. option is the underused Mustang plant in Flat Rock, Mich. Ford has capacity to build 260,000 vehicles a year there, LMC says, but runs the plant on only one daily shift. Michigan politicians are working on legislation to attract major investments after the state failed to make a serious bid for Blue Oval City.
Picking either Flat Rock or Ohio Assembly would let buyers of those vehicles qualify for up to US $4,500 in extra government tax credits, should the Biden administration's proposed legislation make it through Congress.
"Losing out on that extra couple of thousand dollars per vehicle could hurt," Drake said. "It's part of the conversation for sure."