23 Dec 23

The Battery Series: Ford's goal is to bring battery manufacturing to the US

Ford is too ambitious to kick up the EV production and mastering battery production in its facilities. Keen to remove all the obstacles on the way, Ford is eager and also cautious for 2024.

American giant Ford is one of the top-selling brands in the world with the Ford-F series. With the increasing competition fueled by the push from the government, Ford is heavily focusing on battery production in the US to meet future targets and compete with its rivals. Plans have been swirling recently, pointing to a tough 2024 for Ford.

The American giant announced in February 2023 that it is investing 3.5$ bn to produce cheaper lithium iron phosphate batteries (LiFePO4 or LFP) in a factory in Michigan. TechCrunch says the factory won't have batteries based on nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) chemistry used in current Ford EVs. The reason for choosing LFP is to reach higher energy density with fewer materials, reduce fire risk, and allow fast charging. Ford is working with CATL to produce LFP battery cells through the technical know-how provided by the Chinese partner. It was reported that CATL would provide LFP battery packs for the Mach-E SUV and the F-150 Lightning in North America starting in early 2024.

Compared to li-ion batteries that use cobalt, manganese and nickel for cathode materials, LFP is much cheaper (around 20% on average, according to MIT Technology Review), including the other advantages mentioned above, and Ford is likely to use this chemistry for short-range models which would need frequent, fast-charging. Ford's new factory will be opened in 2026, ending the necessity of importing batteries and fastening EV production. Ford said all Mustang Mach-E Standard Range batteries will use LFP instead of NCM in May. LFP chemistry is expected to be used in F-150 Lightning starting in 2024. 

Following the high labour costs and slowing demand for EVs, Ford announced in November that it would reduce the $3,5 bn investment on the planned Michigan plan to around $2 bn and employ not 2,500 but 1,700 workers. The Verge says that the plant will now produce only 20 GW hours of batteries annually, a cut of 43% from the initial target. The plan to launch the new plant in 2026 has not changed. 

The same month, Ford acquired Auto Motive Power (AMP), a Los Angeles-based startup to ramp up charging and battery management technologies. AMP said they will integrate their energy management technologies into Ford's EV portfolio, thus aiming to lower the cost of EV electronics and improve battery utilisation. According to TechCrunch, Ford wants more than integration and will devour the company, taking over its staff, tech and facility. The prominent technology of the startup is the AMP Energy Management System (EMS), which maximises the EV range and ensures the battery's safety. AMP also produces charging solutions as software and hardware, including high and low-voltage battery management systems from 24-volts to 1,000 volts. The AMP Energy Management Unit (ampEMU) is an all-in-one product, including an onboard charger and power distribution unit, providing fast charging and being compatible with Tesla charging standards. 

Image: Ford.

The cost issue 

Like many other automakers, Ford struggles with high costs due to several regional and global factors. CEO Jim Farley said in February that $2 billion in profits melted away due to poor execution and "deeply entrenched issues in the industrial system."  

The goals announced that month include having enough battery supply to meet the 600,000 EVs produced (including 270,000 Mustang Mach-Es, 150,000 E-Transit vans, 150,000 F-150 Lightnings, and 30,000 new SUVs to be sold in Europe). By the end of 2026, Ford wants to reach 2 million EV production. 

To meet the vast battery demand, Ford also plans to establish facilities in two states, Tennessee and Kentucky, with the South Korean battery maker SK Innovation. The Tennessee plant will be a "mega campus" with an EV assembly line and a battery assembly division. Twin factories are planned for Kentucky to produce lithium-ion batteries. Ford has been mainly acquiring its batteries from SK Innovation, clearly motivated to start manufacturing batteries in the US with current Korean and Chinese allies. 

One problem may be that the political tensions between the US and China still have not been settled, and the licensing agreement with CATL may offer political obstacles in the future. According to several media reports, Ford may face obstacles if documents regarding the agreement with CATL are not provided to the associated government bodies. 

It should be noted that the executive order of the Biden administration in 2021 has been updated to have two-thirds of all newly sold vehicles to be EVs. Additionally, to benefit from the federal tax credits, automakers in the US have to source at least 40% of battery materials from North America or companies in the US by 2024. These regulations put pressure on US automakers, and like Ford, many are trying to meet these demands. Nonetheless, Ford is having issues financially and politically. 

Solid-state battery plans 

One of the battery technologies Ford works on for its majestic plan is solid-state batteries (SSBs). In 2021, Ford and SK Innovation formed a joint venture called BlueOval SK. Through a third partner, the SSB developer Colorado-based Solid Power, Ford is to put its hands on the next-generation battery tech, which was first (but partially) achieved by BYD. The goal is to lower costs while boosting efficiency, as Solid Power claims their SSBs are cheaper than lithium-ion cells.

Solid Power's webpage shows the company has extensive partnerships with Ford and BMW to develop all-solid-state batteries. The collaboration with SK Innovation aims to boost the production of all-solid-state batteries using sulfide-based solid electrolytes. The company has many investors, including Hyundai, Volta Energy Technologies, Umicore, Sanoh, A123 Systems and Solvay.

Image: Solid Power.

Both BMW and Ford are known to receive samples from Solid Power in 2022. Ford received full-scale 100-ampere hour cells and continues to develop and test specific battery cell designs with Solid Power to equip long-range models in the coming years. Some rumours about Ford's plan to use sodium solid-state battery are still being determined, and the new Ford Taurus expected to have this battery will have a Ford 2.0L EcoBoost Engine. It will only be available in the Middle East. 

Ford sold 4,2 million vehicles worldwide in 2022, while the sales jumped 9.9% in Q2 this year compared to Q2 2022. Through good planning and enough caution, Ford may disrupt sales figures for its rivals in North America and the globe in a few years and has all the ambition to do so. 

Check earlier articles in this series:
The Battery Series: How Tesla wants to keep world leadership?
The Battery Series: What does BYD have on the menu?
The Battery Series: Volkswagen to boost performance through dry-coating
The Battery Series: Toyota to master both li-ion and solid-state batteries
The Battery Series: Mercedes-Benz's global battery network is ready
The Battery Series: Renault to unleash future EV mobility with the R5
The Battery Series: Volvo's strategy combines performance and safety
The Battery Series: Li Auto wants to topple German giants with 'Qilin'
The Battery Series: Lucid Motors has a unique battery tech and a new strategy
The Battery Series: Nio has a comprehensive plan for 2024 and onwards

The main photo is the courtesy of Shutterstock, 2196743867.

Authored by: Mufit Yilmaz Gokmen