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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ford to add 170 jobs for hybrid and electric cars

Two Ford Motor Co. factories near Detroit will see 170 additional blue-collar jobs in the next two years as the automaker brings battery pack and gas-electric hybrid transmission assembly to the United States.

Ford said Monday it will invest $135 million by 2012 at factories in Ypsilanti Township and Sterling Heights, Mich., to design, engineer and produce components for its next generation of hybrids and fully electric vehicles. About half the investment comes from a federal grant.

The Ypsilanti factory, which now makes auto parts, will get $10 million of investment to build battery packs, creating about 40 new jobs. The packs are now assembled by Delphi Corp. in Mexico. Ford will get its advanced lithium-ion battery cells from a parts supplier that it would not identify.

The Sterling Heights transmission factory will get a $125 million investment and 130 new jobs to build the continuously variable hybrid transmissions now built in Japan.
Currently a supplier makes complex hybrid transmissions for Ford in Japan, the company said.

Ford also said that future development of electric and hybrid vehicles will be centered in the Detroit area, and it also will add 50 engineers to help do the work.
Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said further job growth and investment depends on acceptance of electric vehicles in the marketplace. Ford plans to sell five electric or hybrid vehicles in the U.S. by 2012 and Europe by 2013. It currently offers four hybrid models, including the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan midsize cars and the Ford Edge and Mercury Mariner midsize sport utility vehicles.

"The good news is we're making the investment now, it's going to result in obviously driving innovation, driving job growth. We'll see where we go from there," Fields said.

Ford received a $62.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for hybrid and electric vehicles. The money is part of the federal economic stimulus package, Ford officials said Monday at a news conference at the Ypsilanti Township factory. The company also received tax breaks and from state and local governments.

Fields said Ford was able to bring the jobs to the U.S. because of cooperation with the United Auto Workers on wages and productivity. The company and the union, he said, agreed on how to do the work so the business case made sense.

UAW Vice President Bob King, who has been nominated to become the union's president, said the cooperation was essential to bringing jobs that Ford, which is based in Dearborn, Mich., could have kept in other countries. The company's decision also creates the potential for more work, he said.

"This is an area that will expand and grow, especially the batteries," he said.
Ypsilanti Township Supervisor Brenda Stumbo said the battery pack assembly offers hope of future jobs in the township, which has been hit hard by auto job losses. General Motors recently closed a transmission plant in the township that once employed thousands of workers.

The township approved about a $500,000 tax break for six years on a $9 million investment, Ford said. The state of Michigan also approved $188 million in tax credits for Ford, which includes building an electric car at a factory in Wayne, Michigan. Ford is seeking a $2 million tax abatement from the city of Sterling Heights.

Under the terms of its UAW contract, it's highly likely that Ford will pay the new workers around $14 per hour, about half the hourly wage it pays existing workers, Fields said. Before hiring new staff, though, the automaker will have to recall about 450 laid-off workers nationwide, but it expects to do that well before the Ypsilanti and Sterling Heights jobs are filled.

Ford's plans include a fully electric small commercial van this year, the Transit Connect; an electric Focus compact in 2011; new midsize and compact hybrids in 2012; and a new compact plug-in rechargeable hybrid, also in 2012.

The Fusion hybrid, Ford's top-selling gas-electric vehicle, outsold Toyota's Camry midsize hybrid through the first four months of the year. Ford sold 5,512 Fusion hybrids, compared with Toyota's 5,082 Camry hybrid sales. But Toyota's Prius still leads in hybrid sales at 40,793.

Ford's news follows Friday's announcement that Chrysler Group LLC will add nearly 1,100 new jobs at a Detroit plant that makes the new Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Both announcements give hope to Michigan, which has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 14 percent.

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