Ford hopes more Fusion capacity will help in mid-size sedan competition
Vince Bond Jr.
DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. is looking to claim a bigger slice of the hotly contested mid-sized car market with its 2013 Fusion by adding a second factory for its redesigned mid-size sedan.
The automaker will begin producing the Fusion next year at its newly renamed Flat Rock Assembly Plant near Detroit. Ford will spend $555 million to convert the portion of the former AutoAlliance International factory previously dedicated to production of the Mazda6 sedan.
Ford will continue to build the Mustang in Flat Rock.
In a ceremony today attended by Ford executives and politicians, Ford officially assumed full operational control of the plant, which it co-owns with Mazda Motor Corp. The two companies have jointly produced vehicles there for 26 years.
Ford will add 1,200 hourly jobs during next year's second quarter to handle production of the 2013 Fusion sedan, the company announced today.
"The jobs that will be hired next year will come from a combination of Ford workers in the area or who are on what's called indefinite layoff," Ford spokesman Todd Nissen said. "For instance, they may have left another plant or we had a change at another plant, so they go into a pool of workers who are available for being assigned somewhere else.
"It will come from a combination of those folks as well as new hires."
Farewell to Mazda6
Last month, Mazda ended production of the Mazda6, which had been built at Flat Rock since 2002.
As of Jan. 1, all AutoAlliance workers will be Ford employees, Nissen said.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the dedication of the renamed plant, Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said Ford sees a chance to make a dent in its rivals with the new Fusion and the new 2013 Escape crossover, which is already on sale.
"With these new products, we'll have the opportunity to gain share," he said. But he said Ford will stick with its strategy of not chasing share for its own sake. "We want good, profitable business."
With 181,865 units sold through August, the Fusion ranks fourth in the hotly contested mid-sized sedan segment behind the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. Fusion sales have grown 8 percent compared with the same period last year, in part because of incentives Ford is offering to sell down the outgoing 2012 model.
Ford and Mazda will continue to share ownership of the plant, which became AutoAlliance International in 1992 after Ford acquired a 50 percent stake in the factory.
Ford used to own as much as 33.4 percent of Mazda but sold off most of its investment in 2008. It retains a 3 percent stake in Mazda, a Ford spokesman said on the last day of Mazda6 production.
The last Mazda6 rolled off the line in Flat Rock in August. Fields said discussions are ongoing with Mazda about how to deal with the joint venture. He said Ford will have more news about the venture when it announces third-quarter earnings next month.
Over the years, the plant produced the Mazda 626, Mazda6, Mercury Cougar and Ford Probe. Ford Mustang production was shifted to the plant in 2005.
Besides the Mustang, Ford will make only the three gasoline engine versions of the Fusion at Flat Rock.
The Fusion Hybrid and the Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid will be made at Ford's Hermosillo, Mexico, plant.
The Mexico plant has two and a half times the capacity of the Flat Rock plant, said Jim Tetreault, head of North American manufacturing.
Flexible body shop
With its $555 million investment Ford will build a flexible body shop that can produce multiple vehicles on multiple platforms and upgrade its paint shop with an "environmentally friendly" 3-Wet paint process, Tetreault said.
"We can go trans-platform and will be capable of building up to three platforms and up to six models" to respond to supply and demand in the market, Tetreault said.
Flat Rock is being incorporated into the Ford Manufacturing System, which enables the company to build more vehicles in more locations worldwide.
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