Flat Rock plant to build next-generation Ford Fusion.
FLAT ROCK, Mich. --Ford Motor Co. officials said Monday that the automaker’s big investment in its assembly plant here -- one that will bring 1,200 additional jobs -- is further proof that Ford is committed to putting better cars on the road and to doing much of it from its home state of Michigan.
“It’s an all-out battle for the American garage and I can tell you, Ford is in it to fight to win,” Mark Fields, Ford Americas president, told employees gathered outside the newly renamed Flat Rock Assembly Plant.
Next year, the plant will begin building the all-new 2013 Ford Fusion midsize sedan, a highly anticipated model that competes in one of the auto industry’s most important segments. They will be the first Fusions build in the United States. Up to now, all Fusions have been built at a Ford plant in Hermosillo, Mexico.
Before that U.S. production starts, Ford will pump $555 million into the Flat Rock plant. It will upgrade painting to a more environmentally friendly process and outfit a new body shop.
The investment brings with it a second shift and 1,200 new employees. Hiring is to begin in second quarter of 2013. Ford hasn’t announced when Fusion production will start.
Ford will continue to build some Fusions, including the hybrid versions, in Mexico, although the Flat Rock Assembly Plant will add important production capacity for what is expected to be a big seller for the company.
Mr. Fields noted that the midsize-sedan segment has been the auto industry’s fastest growing this year and includes four of the five best-selling cars in the United States.
“[The segment] is big, it’s important, and we’ve got a fantastic product that competes not only today but is going to raise that level again with the new Fusion,” he said.
Through August, Fusion has posted six consecutive monthly sales records, and at 181,865 units so far this year is Ford’s top-selling car and the company’s second-best-selling vehicle behind the F-series pickup.
Right now, Flat Rock’s 1,685 hourly employees build the 2013 Ford Mustang. Junior Quinones, a nine-year employee at the plant who lives in Sylvania, said there’s been a lot of excitement surrounding Fusion’s arrival.
“It’s going to move us forward,” he said after Ford’s presentation. “Knowing the Fusion’s coming here, you can see the enthusiasm. When the Mustang came, that was real big. Now with the Fusion, building both of them, that’s going to be really exciting.”
Ford says employees in the plant will enjoy a bit more job security once the plant is upgraded.
The tooling that Ford is putting into the plant’s body shop is state of the art and will give the automaker flexibility to respond to changing market demands without having to lay off the work force and shut down the plant to retool.
“If Mustang sales go up, we’ll be able to respond. If Fusion sales go up, we’ll be able to respond. If we need to put another vehicle somewhere, you know what, you’re in the running for it,” Jim Tetreault, vice president of North America Manufacturing for Ford, told employees.
With the new body shop, Flat Rock will be able to build virtually any car, crossover, or sport utility vehicle Ford produces.
Speaking with reporters after the event, Mr. Fields said that flexibility fits into Ford’s vision for the future.
“The days of just dedicating a facility to one model and spitting out 400,000 of them, those days are long gone, with the exception of course of the F-series plant,” he said. “That’s really our overall strategy: match capacity to demand.”
Monday’s celebration also served to mark the renaming of the facility to Flat Rock Assembly Plant.
Since 1987, the plant operated under a joint venture with Mazda Motor Corp. as AutoAlliance International. Mazda made its last cars in Flat Rock in late August, electing to move production of the Mazda 6 back to Japan.
A Ford spokesman said all AutoAlliance workers will become Ford employees at the first of the year, and no job losses came with the end of Mazda production. Ford has full management control of the plant, although Mazda retains its ownership stake.
Some of the second-shift hires are likely to be Ford employees who were laid off from the company’s Kansas City-area plant when Escape production was shifted to Louisville, but many will be new to the company, Mr. Fields said.
Monday’s event also included top United Auto Worker officials and several prominent government figures, including Gov. Rick Snyder, Rep. John Dingell, and U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.
For the most part, they steered clear of the politicking tied so closely to the bailout that General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC received. Ford did not take a bailout, although it supported the effort for its fellow Detroit automakers.
Governor Snyder, a Republican, told the assembled workers the comeback “wasn’t about bailouts and bankruptcy,” and instead was about the autoworkers and the company itself. He also said Ford workers should “take great pride” in their company emerging from the recession without taking a bailout or filing for bankruptcy.
Mr. Dingell, a Democrat and one of the auto industry’s top cheerleaders in Congress, steered clear of the bailout, taking a more celebratory tone in his short but impassioned speech.
“Great things have been done, and more great things are going to be done,” he said. “We’re showing them the American automobile industry is the best in the world.”