Ford Motor has hit the pause button on the construction of a $3.5 billion battery plant in Michigan, which was set to utilize technology licensed from Chinese battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd, or CATL. This decision comes with a range of implications for investors, including concerns about labor relations, electric vehicle technology, costs, and demand.
According to a Ford spokesman, the pause is for construction purposes, and no final decision has been made about the investment. The company wants to ensure its ability to competively operate the plant before moving forward.
Despite this development, investors have yet to react strongly. In after-hours trading on Monday, Ford shares saw a modest increase of 0.2%. Earlier in the day, the stock rose by 1.2% after the announcement of a new labor agreement with Canada’s Unifor union. The broader market indices, S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average, also experienced slight gains of 0.4% and 0.1%, respectively.
The planned battery plant is notable as it is set to use lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) battery technology from CATL, the world’s largest battery manufacturer. Ford will take ownership and operate the facility.
Also known as LFP batteries due to iron’s symbol “Fe” on the periodic table, lithium-iron-phosphate batteries offer a cost-effective alternative for automakers seeking to lower the price of standard-range electric vehicle models compared to other battery chemistries.
Investors now have plenty to digest as they consider the implications of this construction pause and its potential impact on Ford’s future in the electric vehicle market.
The Pause in Ford’s Battery Production: A Deeper Look
EV Penetration and Ford’s Sales Performance
Currently, EV penetration of new car sales in the U.S. stands at approximately 7%. This indicates a significant growth potential for the entire industry, considering the fact that EV sales have witnessed a remarkable increase of almost 50% in just one year. However, Ford’s sales have only seen a modest growth of about 6% up until August. The company has encountered several challenges related to battery availability and manufacturing.
The Silver Lining: Saving Capital Spending
While a pause in production might be viewed as negative by some, it can actually lead to substantial savings in terms of capital spending. These savings can provide Ford with an opportunity to reevaluate its current strategies and potentially prevent any loss of competitive ground to its main rival, Tesla (TSLA), or any other auto manufacturers.
The UAW Angle
It is important to note that the pause coincides with the ongoing UAW labor negotiations. The battery plant under discussion would likely have fallen under the representation of the UAW. However, it is worth mentioning that not all battery plants in the U.S. are UAW-represented, as workers have the freedom to decide whether or not to join a union. In the future, the UAW will undoubtedly attempt to unionize the joint venture battery facilities between auto manufacturers and Asian battery makers. However, the situation with Ford’s Michigan plant is slightly different, as they will own and operate the facility. This might make it easier for the UAW to gain a foothold within a wholly-owned plant.
The Wider Implications
Ford’s decision to pause battery production will undoubtedly send ripples throughout the entire auto industry. Investors may begin to question the pace of EV-related spending in North America and its alignment with market demand. Ford’s conservative approach might be met with either punishment or reward, depending on how investors perceive it. Auto manufacturers find themselves in a challenging position, as they must navigate between investing to secure their share in the evolving EV market and the risk of potentially wasted billions if demand fails to materialize.
In conclusion, Ford’s temporary halt in battery production prompts us to reflect on the broader implications for the EV industry as a whole. It serves as a reminder that companies must carefully consider their strategies to ensure sustainable growth and avoid pitfalls along the way.