Ford opens EV centre in Cologne
Ford has opened its ‘Electric Vehicle Center’ in Cologne. The Ford plant in Cologne-Niehl was converted for the production of electric cars with an investment of two billion US dollars. The annual production capacity will be 250,000 electric cars in the future.
The US carmaker will start producing the all-electric Ford Explorer in Cologne this year and a second electric model based on Volkswagen’s MEB platform starting from 2024. As reported, Ford agreed on a total MEB volume of 1.2 million units with Volkswagen over a period of six years. That makes an average of 200,000 vehicles per year, slightly less than the maximum production capacity now indicated.
The 125-hectare factory site in Cologne-Niehl is one of Ford’s historically important production facilities. The factory was founded in 1930 and is to shine after the conversion as “Ford’s first carbon neutral assembly plant to open globally”, accordingly many passages in the company’s press release deal with the environmental aspects of the converted plant. Important from an eMobility perspective: Cologne-Niehl boasts a new production line, battery assembly and “state-of-the-art tools and automation systems”. As a sign of the plant’s modernity, keywords such as self-learning machines, autonomous transport systems, big data management and augmented reality solutions are mentioned in the Ford announcement.
In an interim report on the conversion work in summer of 2022, Ford revealed detailed plans for the facility. Two new production halls have been built on the site and existing production facilities have been converted. The innovations include a completely new final assembly line for the MEB model. Because of the battery assembly, the final assembly is much more complex for the MEB model than for the Fiesta, which is currently still coming off the production line in Cologne. One example: instead of having to tighten six screws, the robots will have to deal with 53 screws in this step.
Last year Ford described one of the biggest challenges in the transformation to an Electrification Centre as being the fact that the electric Explorer and the Fiesta would initially be produced in parallel. The MEB assembly line will be built in the so-called Y-hall, where the paint shop and final assembly were previously located on two Fiesta production lines. One of these assembly lines was completely dismantled to make room for the new facilities.
In addition to the new assembly lines, the overhead transport system was reinforced, among other things, because the electric SUV model is heavier than the Fiesta previously assembled there. In addition, the team installed a new automated tyre assembly system as well as new test benches for headlight adjustment. The so-called i.O. line (i.O. for in order), where Ford employees carry out the final inspection of the vehicles, was also renewed.
In the future, the bodies will pass through the paint shop in the same hall before they enter the final assembly line. Here, too, Ford has been working on various aspects to optimise the process and make it more sustainable. Opposite the Y-hall, a building about 25 metres high, 24 metres wide and 106 metres long has been built, in which the bodyshells of the electric vehicle model will be pre-treated in future before they go to the paint shop. Diagonally behind it, with a floor space of 25,000 square metres, is the second new hall, in which Ford will manufacture the body shells of the Explorer.
Ford unveiled the electric Explorer in March. The mid-size electric SUV not only bears no relation to the internal combustion SUV of the same name in Ford’s US range but also has little in common with the rest of the carmaker’s European range. This is because the Explorer is the first vehicle from the 2020 cooperation with Volkswagen, which gives Ford access to the Wolfsburg-based company’s MEB modular system.