USA: Ford interrupts construction work on LFP cell factory
Work on Ford’s LFP battery cell plant in Marshall, Michigan, has come to a halt. “We are pausing work and limiting spending on construction on the Marshall project until we’re confident about our ability to competitively operate the plant,” the carmaker said, declining to give the specific reason for the decision. There were several things to consider, Ford added. “We haven’t made any final decision about the planned investment there.”
Ongoing negotiations with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, which has been on strike at Ford, GM and Stellantis in the US for several days, will likely be essential for the decision. Negotiations include workers’ wages in the battery factories – the union wants them to get the same wages as workers in the assembly and engine plants – even if their work in automated cell production is not directly comparable. UAW leader Shawn Fain criticised Ford, calling the decision “a shameful, barely-veiled threat by Ford to cut jobs.”
Ford’s battery cell plant in Marshall was to begin producing LFP cells based on technology from Chinese battery maker CATL in 2026. The project represents a total planned investment of 3.5 billion dollars.
Officially, the factory is not a joint venture between Ford and CATL. Ford will operate the plant, licensing CATL technology developed in China. Thus, the cell factory in Marshall is supposed to be eligible for funding under the Inflation Reduction Act since (on paper) a US company is being funded and no tax money is going to a Chinese company – even though Ford would probably not be able to operate the factory (on the planned schedule) without CATL’s know-how.
Meanwhile, US politicians seem somewhat divided on how to respond to the conflict between the UAW and the “Big Three” (i.e. GM, Ford and Stellantis). US President Joe Biden is expected in Michigan on Tuesday to support the workers on strike. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (also a Democrat), on the other hand, is betting on an amicable settlement and says: “Ford has been clear that this is a pause, and we will continue to push for successful negotiations between the Big 3 and UAW so that Michiganders can get back to work doing what they do best.”