The Detroit automaker said the Chinese technology would allow for faster charging times in some EVs and would help make the vehicles more affordable.
The deal comes as already poor U.S.-China relations reached a new low in recent weeks over a Chinese spy balloon discovered in U.S. airspace and shot down by the U.S. military. The incident followed several years of tension over trade and technology, during which the United States has increasingly restricted tech exports to China that it said might otherwise aid Beijing’s military and human rights violations.
Despite growing tensions, however, China has become a major player in the electric-vehicle business, with its factories churning out more EVs and batteries than those in the West. The nation’s rise in an industry previously dominated by Western companies will foist tough decisions on global automakers attempting to stay on top of the latest technology while navigating the East-West tensions.
Asked about the political risks of relying on Chinese technology at a time of worsening U.S.-China relations, Lisa Drake, vice president of EV industrialization at the automaker, said the company had planned carefully.
“We certainly thought through that and those are provisions and things we’ve agreed with CATL in the course of our contract work,” Drake told reporters. “Of course we thought about it and we’ve taken care of the optionality with that in the contract.”
“It’s really important to understand that Ford controls the plant,” Drake added.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said last month that he had taken Virginia out of the running for the plant in December, citing concerns about doing business with the Chinese Communist Party.
“We felt that the right thing to do was to not recruit Ford as a front for China to America,” Youngkin told reporters in January after his annual State of the Commonwealth speech.
Ford had been eyeing a site in Southside Virginia near Danville and Martinsville, a part of the state has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs in recent years as textile and furniture factories relocated overseas. Local lawmakers said they had mixed feelings about Youngkin’s decision — sorry to see the region miss out on badly needed jobs but uncomfortable with the national security implications of the Chinese involvement.
Gregory S. Schneider contributed to this report.