Ford to add more than 200 jobs in Michigan as it plans new hybrid crossover

Posted on June 13, 2011

Ford will offer gas-electric hybrid and plug-in electric versions of its C-Max that will go into production next year at the automaker’s Michigan assembly plant in Wayne.

Batteries for both the hybrid and plug-in C-Max will be made at Ford’s Rawsonville parts plant, while workers at the Van Dyke transmission plant will make the drivetrain. Ford is adding 170 jobs at the two plants, as well as 50 new engineers in Dearborn.

Taking a page from Toyota’s strategy that established Prius as the dominant hybrid electric vehicle in the U.S., Ford is betting that a dedicated alternative powertrain nameplate will enable it to triple its production of electrified vehicles from 35,000 to 100,000 annually by 2013. But it’s a new name to American consumers.

The C-Max has been sold in Europe since 2010 with both traditional gasoline and diesel engines. It is what Europeans call a multi-activity vehicle. Most Americans would recognize it as a small crossover-type model.

“Our customers have really changed in the last 120 days,” said Jim Farley, head of Ford’s marketing, sales and service. In the wake of pump prices that have hovered near or above $4 a gallon for more than a month, consumers are looking at miles per gallon numbers whether they’re buying a pickup truck or a subcompact commuting car.

Farley said both C-Max models would average better than 41 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving.

Ford currently offers gas-electric hybrid options on its Fusion and Lincoln MKZ midsize sedans and the Escape SUV. It is launching all-electric powertrains of its Transit van and the 2012 Focus.

But Toyota remains the industry leader in hybrid vehicle sales, largely on the strength of the Prius, which has been on American roads for more than a decade.

Farley declined to give details about the new C-Maxes, such as pricing or how far the plug-in electric can be driven on the battery alone.

Ford is going public with its C-Max plan less than two weeks before Toyota gives reporters a first look at its new Prius V, a larger wagon-like derivative of its iconic hybrid sedan.

Like the Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric and the Nissan Leaf battery-only car, the plug-in C-Max will qualify some type of federal tax credit, but the exact amount is yet to be determined.

“It may be too late for them to replicate Toyota Prius numbers with C-Max alone,” said Aaron Bragman, an analyst with IHS Automotive in Northville. “But these are the types of vehicles all automakers are going to have to sell in large volumes to meet the government’s fuel economy standards.”

The Obama administration is requiring every U.S. automaker to achieve an average fuel economy of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. Last year the industry-wide average was about 22.4 miles per gallon.

By Gregg Gardner, Detroit Free Press