It's been a tough year for the auto industry. Most major auto manufacturers have witnessed months of double-digit sales declines. Both General Motors and Chrysler took bailout money from the government to weather these harsh times while Ford said "no thanks" and decided to go it alone.
Since the bailout funds were initially handed out in December, Chrysler has filed for bankruptcy and GM appears to be nearing that point. Ford, on the other hand, appears to be moving ahead with returning to profitability and shifting its production lines to producing more fuel efficient vehicles.
Ford yesterday announced plans to invest $550 million in retooling its Michigan Assembly plant to produce the all-new Ford Focus and an accompanying battery-electric variant. The Michigan Assembly Plant currently produces Ford's behemoth body-on-frame SUVs: the Ford Expedition and the Lincoln Navigator.
In addition to the change at the Michigan Assembly Plant, Ford will also convert two other truck plant -- Cuautitlan Assembly in Mexico and Louisville Assembly -- to produce the subcompact Ford Fiesta and Focus-based compact vehicles.
"We're changing from a company focused mainly on trucks and SUVs to a company with a balanced product lineup that includes even more high-quality, fuel-efficient small cars, hybrids and all-electric vehicles," said Ford's Mark Fields. "As customers move to more fuel-efficient vehicles, we'll be there with more of the products they really want."
"The transformation of Michigan Assembly Plant embodies the larger transformation under way at Ford," added Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally. "This is about investing in modern, efficient and flexible American manufacturing. It is about fuel economy and the electrification of vehicles."
Like its Fiesta sibling, the new Ford Focus will truly be a global vehicle. The North American market will get the same Focus that sells in other parts of the world which isn't the case today -- the current NA Focus is based on a platform dating back to 1999, whereas other world markets got a fully revamped Focus in 2004.
While many auto enthusiasts will be happy to hear that North America will finally have a vehicle on par with the rest of the world, the big news will be with the battery-electric version of the Focus. According to Ford, the vehicle will feature an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack. The vehicle is being developed in conjunction with Magna International and will go into production in 2011 as a 2012 model year vehicle.
Ford also has plans to market a battery-electric version of its upcoming Transit Connect commercial vehicle, a next generation hybrid, and a next generation plug-in hybrid by 2012.