MONTEREY, Calif. -- In 2002, the Ford-Mazda assembly plant in Flat Rock, Mich., cranked out 65,924 Mazda 626 sedans. That required 28 percent of the plant's capacity - hardly placing it in the running for productivity awards.
But in fall 2002 the plant started to make the Mazda6, the 626's more successful replacement. Then Flat Rock got the task of building the redesigned Ford Mustang, shifted from Ford's Dearborn, Mich., assembly plant. Mustang production begins at Flat Rock on Sept. 7.
Once Mustang production is at full steam, the plant likely will run two shifts, as well as overtime and Saturdays, said Philip Spender, CEO of AutoAlliance International Inc., the Ford-Mazda initiative at Flat Rock.
If that happens, the plant will exceed its 280,000-vehicle capacity and assemble 295,000 vehicles next year, Spender said. Mustang production will account for more than two-thirds of that total.
"The Mustang has an all-new platform, chassis and powertrain," Spender said in an interview here. "It's a huge project."
The Mustang has rear-wheel drive and uses six- and eight-cylinder engines. It will be built in coupe and convertible versions.
The Mazda6 has a front-drive platform with four- and six-cylinder engines. It offers sedan, wagon and five-door variants.
The Flat Rock plant has been configured for maximum flexibility to build both cars. The Mazda6 and Mustang have their own body stamping lines, but the vehicles come together in the pre-paint area. All final assembly goes down the same line.
The Mazda6 takes slightly longer to build because of its rear doors and complicated rear-seat packaging. But Spender estimates both vehicles will need about 23 hours a car to produce.
"Given this product complexity, we need to pay attention to detail to keep the quality high," Spender said.
Although AutoAlliance is in UAW country, the Flat Rock plant is run like a Japanese factory. That demands lots of employee training.
"It's based on a mid-'80s Japanese plant model," Spender said. "It makes efficient use of plant space. It uses just-in-time and is lean.
"Although we have Ford logistics, we are running Mazda's shop floor system," he said. "We need to work on blending the cultures."