What a difference a CEO makes.
We dedicate the song below to Ford. It would fit perfectly if it used the word "CEO" instead of "day," especially because it actually took seven months. On September 2, 2020, Ford’s former CEO Jim Hackett said the company would not build its own cells. This April 27, 2021, Ford’s current CEO, Jim Farley, decided the manufacturer should verticalize that, starting with a “battery center of excellence called Ford Ion Park.
Located in Allen Park, Michigan, the Ion Park is part of an effort involving 150 professionals and $185 million that will start to operate in 2022 in a 200,000 square feet area. Its main mission will be to “allow Ford to quickly scale breakthrough battery cell designs with novel materials once the company vertically integrates battery cells and batteries.”
What happened with the reasoning that buying cells from suppliers would give Ford flexibility? Curiously, it was Hau Thai-Tang, Ford's head of product development and purchasing, who argued at the time that investing in battery production could leave the company with investments in obsolete technology if there’s a massive breakthrough in cells, such as solid-state batteries.
It was the same Thai-Tang who is now saying that “investing in more battery R&D ultimately will help us speed the process to deliver more, even better, lower-cost EVs for customers over time.” It would be fascinating to learn what he really thinks about this move regardless of who his boss is.
Now that the decision is taken, Ion Park should help Ford try to catch up with companies that already believe in verticalization and produce their own batteries. Tesla was the first case and was recently followed by Volkswagen. Considering Ford and Volkswagen already have a deal in Europe for the use of the MEB platform, Herbert Diess may have helped convince Farley this was the way to go. Let’s hope Ford does not change its mind seven months from now.