Despite Ford Motor Company’s aggressive push into the electric vehicle market, the company has assured Unifor officials that it sees internal combustion engines manufactured at its Windsor plant as an important product offering through 2040.
Unifor Local 200 president John D’Agnolo met with Ford vice president for American manufacturing John Savona and vice president for labor affairs Kevin Legel last week in Toronto for updates on the company’s plans for its Canadian operations.
“They’re still a long way from getting out of the combustion side when it comes to trucks,” D’Agnolo said.
“They don’t see until 2040 before they come out of the burning side.
“Right now, I’m looking at their plans for the next three years and it’s stable in both locations (Essex Engine, Annex Engine). I’m quite happy with that.”
They recognize the quality and productivity of our workforce
D’Agnolo admitted that he was a little anxious ahead of the meeting. The company will start producing the Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck this month with the annual production quota already sold out.
However, Ford insists it will continue to rely on the engines made by Windsor to power its most popular and most profitable products, including the F-series pickup truck and Mustang.
“They are quite positive,” said D’Agnolo. “That’s where they make their profit to invest into the battery electric vehicle side.
“Right now, the truck engine is their bread and butter and they’re not going to make any changes to that.”
D’Agnolo said the company confirmed demand for the soon-to-be-launched 5.0-liter, 7.3-liter and 6.8-liter Windsor engines remained strong.
He added he expects the transition to EV products to likely come sooner than anticipated with the evolution of the technology. The federal government has also set a 2035 deadline for all sales of new cars and light trucks to go electric.
However, heavy-duty pickup trucks will not fall under the federal ban.
“I don’t think they’ll be able to move on from that (heavy-duty truck) too soon,” said D’Agnolo.
“Anyone who drives a truck, like the F-150, maybe we’ll see it differently.”
D’Agnolo also continues to lobby the company to be prepared to place another product on Windsor when the product’s shelf life ends.
“I spoke to them about the importance of it because we will be one of the last to produce on the burning side,” said D’Agnolo.
“We cannot be forgotten because of that. They recognize the quality and productivity of our workforce.”
Of more concern to both the company and Unifor in the short term are the supply chain problems that all automakers experience.
The addition of a new 6.8-liter engine at the Annex Windsor plant was supposed to make it a third shift this fall, but recruitment has been paused and the rollout of the shift is unknown due to a microchip shortage.
“The third shift will happen if we have chips,” said D’Agnolo, who added the industry was also plagued by logistical cost issues, lack of truckers and other parts shortages to an unprecedented degree.
“The problem is they can’t guarantee the chips to run the third shift. They gave no indication or time of when they would be ready to go with the third shift.”
D’Agnolo says the 1,700 chips needed for the electric F-150 Lightning is eight times the number of the current F-150.
Along with the microchips, Ford will also need more battery factories to supply the five electric vehicles it will produce at its sprawling Oakville complex.
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Ford officials told D’Agnolo the transition of the plant to a fully electric production facility is on schedule for late 2024 or early 2025.
“Obviously, they’re going to need more battery factories,” said D’Agnolo, who added company officials were tight-lipped on the matter.
“They are very aware that the federal and provincial governments recognize the importance of this program and they (the government) are now getting out and pursuing the business they were waiting for.”
It has been confirmed by multiple sources Ford has studied southwestern Ontario as a possible location for a battery plant.