Ford takes Detroit rail station back to autonomous future

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A drawing of what the main hall will look like after Ford’s revamp in its founding city. (AP)
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Bill Ford at Michigan Central Station. (AP)
Updated 18 June 2018
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Ford takes Detroit rail station back to autonomous future

  • The executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. and great-grandson of founder Henry Ford envisions the future of the carmaker’s foray into self-driving vehicles.
  • The company has said it aims to have a self-driving vehicle on the market by 2021.

DETROIT, US: Bill Ford looks past the tons of paint, plaster and steel needed to remake Detroit’s blighted Michigan Central train station and sees more than just an iconic building in desperate need of a makeover.

The executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. and great-grandson of founder Henry Ford envisions the future of the carmaker’s foray into self-driving vehicles.

Ford Motor Co. is embarking on a four-year renovation of the 105-year-old depot and 17-story office tower just west of downtown. The massive project is expected to increase the automaker’s footprint in the city where the company was founded, provide space for electric and autonomous vehicle testing and research, and spur investment in the surrounding neighborhood.

Ford will be reclaiming a derelict 20th century landmark, but it also will be using some iconic Motor City real estate to embark on a 21st century venture.

“This had to make business sense for us,” Bill Ford told The Associated Press on Thursday. “We couldn’t just do this as a philanthropic endeavor. It really will become a statement for us and a great recruiting tool for the kind of talent we’re going to need to win in the autonomous vehicle war.”

The company has said it aims to have a self-driving vehicle on the market by 2021.

The building’s sale was announced last week. The company will announce details of the renovation and its plans Tuesday.

Bill Ford declined to say how much it cost to buy the 500,000-square-foot (46,450-square-meter) building from Manuel “Matty” Moroun or how much the carmaker expects to spend fixing it up. A 2004 plan to convert the train station into Detroit’s police headquarters was expected to cost more than $100 million.

The money for Ford’s project is coming from a pool set aside in 2016 to update the automaker’s headquarters in nearby Dearborn, though the company will also seek tax breaks and other incentives.

“We had to make sure that this could fit into our existing budget, and thankfully it did,” Bill Ford said.

The train station, which opened in 1913,  was the hub for rail transportation in Detroit for decades. Travelers and visitors marveled at its robust columns that stretched to an ornately tiled ceiling. But as passenger rail travel waned with easier road and air travel, the last train left Michigan Central in 1988.

Scrappers stripped metal from the vacant building and the thousands of broken windows allowed the elements to damage the walls, floors and ceilings, depressing the property’s value.

Along the way, Detroit slid toward fiscal collapse. The population has dropped by more than one million people since the 1950s. Tens of thousands of homes were abandoned even before the city tumbled into and out of bankruptcy several years ago.

The aging, hulking and empty Michigan Central exemplified Detroit’s plight.

“It always really bothered me whenever you’d see a national story about the decay of Detroit, photos of the train station often were used,” Bill Ford said, as he sat in the depot’s cavernous passenger waiting room.

“Then I started to think: ‘What if we could buy it, rehab it and not just make it a beautiful building — which we’re going to do — but make it something more?’” he said. “Make it really part of the reinvention of transportation for the future.”

The rehabbed office tower will have room for about 5,000 workers, at least half of whom will be Ford’s. Restaurants, coffee shops, taverns and retail will fill the depot.

“My vision is this becomes a gathering spot for people who want to meet family or friends and grab a cup of coffee or quick lunch or dinner and then go off and do something else in Detroit,” Ford added. “I want them to feel that this is going to be a really wonderful spot to be in, and that they will get excited about coming here.”


‘Get prices down’ Trump tells OPEC

Updated 20 September 2018
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‘Get prices down’ Trump tells OPEC

  • Trump highlights US security role in region
  • Comments come ahead of oil producers meeting in Algeria

LONDON: US president Donald Trump urged OPEC to lower crude prices on Thursday while reminding Mideast oil exporters of US security support.
He made his remarks on Twitter ahead of a keenly awaited meeting of OPEC countries and its allies in Algiers this weekend as pressure mounts on them to prevent a spike in prices caused by the reimposition of oil sanctions on Iran.
“We protect the countries of the Middle East, they would not be safe for very long without us, and yet they continue to push for higher and higher oil prices!” he tweeted.
“We will remember. The OPEC monopoly must get prices down now!”
Despite the threat, the group and its allies are unlikely to agree to an official increase in output, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing OPEC sources.
In June they agreed to increase production by about one million barrels per day (bpd). That decision was was spurred by a recovery in oil prices, in part caused by OPEC and its partners agreeing to lower production since 2017.
Known as OPEC+, the group of oil producers which includes Russia are due to meet on Sunday in Algiers to look at how to allocate the additional one million bpd within its quote a framework.
OPEC sources told Reuters that there was no immediate plan for any official action as such a move would require OPEC to hold what it calls an extraordinary meeting, which is not on the table.
Oil prices slipped after Trumps remarks, with Brent crude shedding 40 cents to $79 a barrel in early afternoon trade in London while US light crude was unchanged at about $71.12.
Brent had been trading at around $80 on expectations that global supplies would come under pressure from the introduction of US sanctions on Iranian crude exports on Nov. 4.
Some countries has already started to halt imports from Tehran ahead of that deadline, leading analysts to speculate about how much spare capacity there is in the Middle East to compensate for the loss of Iranian exports as well as how much of that spare capacity can be easily brought online after years of under-investment in the industry.
Analysts expect oil to trend higher and through the $80 barrier as the deadline for US sanctions approaches.
“Brent is definitely fighting the $80 line, wanting to break above,” said SEB Markets chief commodities analyst Bjarne Schieldrop, Reuters reported. “But this is likely going to break very soon.”