Tuesday 26 September 2023

Ford Halts Controversial Battery Plant Amid Strikes From Auto Workers Union

 Ford announced on Monday that it is pausing construction on a multi-billion dollar battery plant in Marshall, Michigan that had drawn scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers over the company’s partnership with Chinese battery-maker Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd., or CATL.

“We’re pausing work, and we’re going to limit spending on construction at Marshall until we’re confident about our ability to competitively run the plant,” Ford spokesman T.R. Reid said in a statement. “There are a number of considerations, all of which we’re evaluating in terms of our competitiveness.”

“We haven’t made a final decision about the investment there,” Reid added, noting that the pause on the $3.5 billion plant was effective immediately.

The statement did not mention the ongoing strikes from the the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, who lashed out after hearing the news.

“This is a shameful, barely-veiled threat by Ford to cut jobs,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in a statement. “Closing 65 plants over the last 20 years wasn’t enough for the Big Three, now they want to threaten us with closing plants that aren’t even open yet. We are simply asking for a just transition to electric vehicles and Ford is instead doubling down on their race to the bottom.”

The Detroit News noted that when plans for the plant were announced earlier this year that Ford had hoped to be producing 2 million electric vehicles per year by 2026 but the company had to abandon those goals because the market demand is not what the company anticipated.

The announcement came as the struggling auto brand lost billions of dollars last year under the leadership of CEO Jim Farley in part because of bad investments and poor vehicle quality which has led to expensive recalls, according to a report from The New York Times.

Republicans from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to Farley on September 1 requesting information on the company’s relationship with CATL. The partnership, made in February, garnered criticism from some lawmakers who pointed to national security concerns.

“While Ford has labeled this project a ‘commitment to American manufacturing’ and asserts it will create 2,500 new American jobs, we are concerned that Ford’s partnership with a Chinese company could aid China’s efforts to expand its control over United States electric vehicle supply chains and jeopardize national security by furthering dependence on China,” the letter said.

Republicans referenced congressional testimony that said CATL could stop working on the project if tensions between the U.S. and China escalated, leaving the vehicle maker in a bind over how to source batteries for its vehicles. The lawmakers also questioned who would be employed at the plant currently under construction in Marshall, Michigan.

“Additionally, Members learned at this hearing that Chinese companies often supply their own workers to projects in Latin America and Africa, reinforcing fears that CATL will import workers for this facility rather than creating jobs for United States workers,” the letter said.

The GOP lawmakers requested a copy of the licensing agreement between Ford and CATL, along with communications from Ford discussing federal incentives for the project.

“We seek to learn more about whether this partnership, and others like it, will potentially exacerbate our reliance on China. Should China gain control of domestic electric vehicle production, the United States would be exposed to serious national security risks at a time of escalating geopolitical tensions,” the Republicans said.

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