Ford CEO lays out updated vision for Michigan Central Station, electrification – Crain's Detroit Business

Ford Motor Co.’s vision for Michigan Central Station extends far beyond the walls of the historic building in Corktown and goes further than tackling just mobility issues.
Since the Dearborn-based automaker announced three years ago its renovation of the train station, expected to total $740 million, the project has taken many different turns.
Details are beginning to take shape as the company prepares to welcome employees to the new campus by the end of next year, CEO Jim Farley said Saturday during a Detroit Homecoming discussion with event director Mary Kramer.
“We really want companies like Google and other software mobility companies to come down there,” Farley said. “We don’t want this to be a Ford facility. In fact, I’d be really happy if only 10 percent of the people there worked at Ford, but I want my good Ford software people down there with those kinds of companies. And we’ll learn a lot from them, and they’ll learn a lot from us. And geez, I can’t think of a place in the country where that’s happening.”
Farley, who took the reins at Ford in October 2020, is racing other automakers to an electric future that promises to upend the global automotive industry in the coming years. Ford recently committed $30 billion of investment into electrification by 2025. In Detroit, the train station is both symbolic of that future and of a new beginning for Detroit after years of economic hardship.
Farley said Ford’s renovation of Michigan Central is being driven by “Bill Ford’s personal vision.”
The impetus for purchasing the station was being “fed up” with the “deterioration porn” of Detroit in the media,” he said.
“Someone had to step up.”
In addition to previously announced plans to improve green space around the train station, including making Roosevelt Park safer and more accessible, Farley said the project aims to connect the campus to the Detroit Riverfront with a green belt and “huge park.”
“We’re going to work with the team to connect it to the river,” he said. “We quickly realized, holy cow, the real opportunities are actually the whole space around (the station).”
Another key Corktown project for Farley is the $22 million homeless shelter in the works with the Pope Francis Center. Farley said a site has been selected and that the project is “almost funded.” Farley, who regularly volunteers at the Pope Francis Center, said he thinks the model for the new shelter could help solve the issue of homelessness in Detroit.
“I think (it) will be America’s most innovative transition center for homeless people,” he said.
On the mobility side, plans unveiled in 2020 involving a “connected corridor” on Michigan Avenue between Corktown and Ann Arbor are still very much part of the vision. Farley said the automaker is raising money with “a couple of technology companies” to push the project forward.
The connected corridor is symbolic of the major challenges posed by the electrification of the industry, according to the CEO.
“Autonomy is taking longer than we thought, but we still have to solve these second order problems, like do we have dedicated infrastructure for autonomous vehicles, you know, etcetera, etcetera,” Farley said. “I don’t think we should wait for regulators to make up their minds. We have to solve this as companies.”
Among those second order problems is the impact of electrification on labor and supply. An EV requires between 20 percent and 30 percent less labor than a traditional ICE-powered vehicle, Farley said.
“We can’t just walk away from that,” he said.
The global microchip shortage, now projected to cost the industry $210 billion in losses, laid bare the industry’s reliance on imported parts. Farley said the problem is only going to get worse with the ramp up of EVs, whose primary components are batteries and silicon.
The solution, he said, is government-backed investment in microchip plants in the U.S. and domestic sourcing of lithium and cobalt for batteries – the heart of the next generation vehicle.
“So, are we going to import the lithium and cobalt from, you know, nation states that have child labor and all sort of corruption, or are we going to start to get serious about mining in North America,” Farley said. “We have to solve these things, and we don’t have much time.”
All the issues tie back to the future of electric vehicles and when they will take over the industry. For most consumers, EVs are too expensive, and that will continue to slow the transformation of the industry, Farley said.
“I am deeply worried about the affordability of this move,” he said. “That’s the one that keeps me up at night.”
 
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