Ford builds first Explorer EV in Germany

The OEM hails the efficiency leaps brought by assembly line software

Ford builds first Explorer EV in Germany
The Explorer SUV will sell for around €45,000

The first Explorer E-SUV has rolled off the lines at Detroit automaker Ford's factory in Cologne, Germany, as the company extols the benefits of its highly advanced software-defined assembly line at the facility.

Ford says the plant has become the first dedicated EV facility in Europe following a $2bn investment that has "transformed a historic plant into a factory of the future".

Ford's EV manufacturing presence in Europe is strengthened, albeit after the firm shut down its battery JV with Turkish firm Koc Holdings at its Kocaeli plant in Turkey in November. Ford is also set to build some next-gen EVs at its plant in Valencia, Spain, by 2027.

The Explorer electric SUV has long been earmarked to lead Ford's EV strategy in Europe and the OEM has indicated that its two version will sell at or around 45,000 (c.$49,000). It is a C-segment vehicle, so smaller than the D-segment Tesla Model Y but larger than the rising star of the European BEV market, the B-segment Volvo EX30 compact SUV.

The vehicle uses the VW Group MEB battery platform, which perhaps raises questions about Ford's long-term view of the vehicle in light of the firm's root and branch platform redesigns for upcoming EV generations.

Marginal gains

But Ford says the Cologne factory is its most efficient facility both in terms of emissions from operations as well as cost efficiency within production processes. The plant uses a digital monitoring system which creates an up-to-date digital representation of the plant on a control room computer, which Ford says "monitors the entire assembly process in real time – right down to the quantity of every part and nut at each workstation".

"The plant’s 'digital twin' is displayed via a giant touchscreen containing all workstations with information on tooling, material delivery, work safety and more. With small touchscreens, employees on the line provide further information on the status of their workplace," the company says.
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Ford CEO Jim Farley also revealed that an announcement about the second EV model to be manufactured at the plant — a sport crossover — is "coming soon". Production of the upcoming vehicle is set to begin in Cologne later this year, Ford says.

This is after a Ford source told EV inFocus in December that the company was in advanced discussions about bringing some Mustang Mach E production to Europe, possibly in conjunction with a new battery partner.

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