On a stage in the heart of Silicon Valley on Wednesday night, a business rolled out a product with major implications for manufacturing in the South Bend Region.
SF Motors, the company that in November purchased the former AM General Commercial assembly plant in Mishawaka, unveiled a pair of electric vehicles that will be produced there. Challenging electric vehicle giant Tesla, SF Motors hopes to develop vehicles with high performance and integrated technology that can aid and sometimes even take over driving responsibilities.
During Wednesday's unveiling in Santa Clara, Calif., SF Motors CEO John Zhang said that his interest in electric vehicles was piqued when he experienced the acceleration that electric power can provide.
“I remember the acceleration when I first drove an electric car,” Zhang said, “I was hooked.”
The 2-year-old electric vehicle company, a subsidiary of Chinese automaker Chongqing Sokon Industry Group, plans to build a pair of electric crossover SUVs called the SF5 and SF7. While the company’s headquarters are in Silicon Valley, its two production facilities will be in Mishawaka and Chongqing, China. Zhang praised the “engineering and manufacturing expertise” in the Midwest, citing its importance in the company’s future success.
According to Jim Finn, chief production officer for the company, production at both facilities will begin later this year, with plans to reach production of 200,000 vehicles per year. Both plants will handle the full production line for the vehicles, from body welding to battery production to final assembly, Finn said. SF Motors’ website said the Mishawaka plant will have as assembly capacity of 50,000 cars annually.
The Mishawaka plant will also feature advanced automation, including a fully automated body shop and quality control. Still, the company plans to employ around 3,500 workers worldwide. Todd Leahy, formerly the general assembly manager for AM General, will manage the Mishawaka plant.
The SF5, the company’s mid-market crossover, will be sold on preorder later this year and on the road by 2019. Jason Wallace, brand director for SF Motors, said that he couldn’t give a specific price for the vehicle, but said it's “expected to be in the $50,000 range.”