W. MI suppliers may get boost after Ford announcement

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While vehicles aren’t built in West Michigan, local suppliers produce many of the parts that put those cars, trucks and SUVs on the road. One industry analyst says Ford’s announcement of their jump into autonomous and electric vehicles could benefit those local suppliers.

IHS Auto analyst Mike Wall says West Michigan suppliers are likely to garner the benefits of the new products Ford is proposing, even if they service a niche segment.

“Think of batteries, so battery cooling and battery storage. I know there are suppliers here that are involved in the sort of battery dividers and the battery separators and the battery trays,” Wall said.

Even those suppliers not directly involved in the technologies could see benefits.

“Because these vehicles are going to need seats. They’re going to need trim pieces. They’re going to need grills. They’re going to need bumpers,” Wall said.

Meeting federal corporate fuel economy standards by 2025 is one of the driving forces behind electric power development. But battery-powered motors aren’t the only way automakers are getting to those standards.

They’re also investing in diet plans — reducing the weight of vehicles from the frame all the way down to the components.

“A lot of the suppliers that we’ve talked about on this side of the state in the past that is their bread and butter,” said Wall. “If they can pull weight out of that part, out of that component and out of the vehicle it really does solidify their business case with that automaker.”

Ford is the latest and arguably the most aggressive to dive into the new technology. Seven new battery-powered model vehicles are on Ford’s drawing board.

Specialty vehicles — like the hybrid versions of the Mustang and F-150 pickup, and a new plugin SUV with a range of 300 miles — are part of the $700 million investment outlined by the automaker Tuesday.

Ford will also concentrate its autonomous vehicle development at their Flat Rock Plant, south of Detroit.

“Anytime you see this increased investment, in this case, right here in Michigan, it’s one of those things that can be of a positive for really any supplier on this side of the state potentially,” said Wall.

Ford also scraped its plan to open a new $1.6 billion plant in Mexico, but the company still plans to move production of the Focus to Mexico.