By casting a light on a single auto manufacturer, in this case Ford, we can see what is happening in the industry. As I write, Ford just announced an investment of $1.2 billion in three Michigan facilities. The Michigan assembly plant, a 5,000,000-square-foot facility employing 3,700, will receive $850 million. The investment will help support the return of the Ranger (2018) and Bronco (2020). An investment of $150 million will expand capacity in the Romeo Engine Plant and bring 130 jobs to the facility. Current employment is 527.
The latest investments are in addition to the $700 million announced earlier this year for Ford’s Flat Rock (Michigan) Assembly Plant, which employs 3,250 in a 3,000,000-square-foot facility. This investment for high-tech electrified and autonomous vehicles will bring 700 new jobs to Flat Rock. Ford said it plans to have a fully autonomous vehicle ready for commercial ride-sharing, taxiing and package-delivery fleets in 2021.
In late February, Ford displayed its “Autolivery” concept that relies on electric self-driving vans and drones to move packages. Vans would transport goods part of the way, and drones would finish the delivery. Ford expects that electric vehicles will outnumber their gas models in the next 15 years and expects shared transportation to continue gaining popularity.
Be it Ford or otherwise, technology is big automotive news. Two of these developments come from Israel, and one will provide a boost to the utility of electric cars. A company called ElectRoad has developed technology that retrofits roads with buried coils to inductively charge electric vehicles. It has been successfully tested and will soon be used for a public bus route in Tel Aviv. Vehicles will not need to stop to recharge because they would charge by driving.
Another futuristic technological development is (can you say Jetson?) flying vehicles. The Cormorant is a flying military car (i.e., drone) that is capable of carrying passengers. Payload is about 1,000 pounds, and it can travel at speeds of about 115 miles per hour. It is thought that the Cormorant could be useful in the evacuation of soldiers on the battlefield.
Alternative “fuels” always seem to be in the news, and some are high tech. In addition to Ford’s electric ventures, Faraday Future unveiled a cool futuristic-looking concept car at a recent show. Looking a bit like a modern-day Batmobile, the car can apparently go 0-60 mph in 2.4 seconds. nanoFlowcell recently unveiled the QUANT 48VOLT, which also claims 0-60 in 2.4 seconds. The all-wheel-drive sports car will deliver speeds of up to 186 mph.
GM and Honda have created the industry’s first JV to mass produce an advanced hydrogen fuel-cell system. The companies are making equal $85 million investments to establish Fuel Cell Manufacturing LLC, which will operate within an existing Michigan GM facility. Mass production of fuel-cell systems is expected to begin around 2020 and create 100 new jobs.
“Green” diesel continues development as an alternative fuel, and Ford announced earlier this year that it will offer a diesel-engine option on its 2018 F-150. Did you know that the F-150 has been the most popular-selling vehicle in the U.S. for the past 40 years? Additionally, according to KOGOD’s 2016 Made in America Index, the F-150 is manufactured from 85% domestic content. Only three GM vehicles are higher.
Additive manufacturing (AM) is another technology being utilized by the automotive industry. Ford says it is the first to experiment with the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer. The room-sized printer is located in Ford’s Dearborn Research and Innovation Center in Michigan. In discussing its experience with 3D printing, Ford claims to have bought (in 1988) the third 3D printer ever made. A report by SmarTech predicts that consumption of 3D-printing materials by the automotive industry will reach around $530 million by 2021.
As you can see, so much is happening in automotive that there is no room to focus on much more than Ford in the space of this column. Happy motoring!