FLAT ROCK, Mich. - The excitement was unmistakable Thursday as the first U.S.-built Ford Fusions rolled off the line at Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant (FRAP), the culmination of a year in planning, $555 million worth of investment and several months’ worth of training 1,400 new employees.
“The real driver behind today’s celebration is demand,” said Joe Hinrichs, president, The Americas. “Adding production here at Flat Rock has increased our manufacturing capacity for Fusion by about 30 percent, which is much needed based on how much our customers love this car.”
Since 2005, the Flat Rock facility has built Mustangs of all trim levels. But surging demand for Fusion in the U.S. spurred new investment and hiring at the Flat Rock site. Statistics show the company sold 21,000 more Fusions in the first six months of 2013 than it did during the same period one year ago. This growth represents a 13 percent increase in demand from 2012 to 2013. Expanding production to FRAP increases Fusion availability by more than 30 percent, allowing Ford to produce up to 350,000 units annually.
“With its bold design and great fuel economy, Fusion has exceeded all of our expectations with demand outstripping supply,” said Hinrichs. “Fusion in Flat Rock is a win for all of our stakeholders – customers, employees and dealers. At the same time, Ford is continuing its massive investment in America by creating another 1,400 jobs.”
Ford plans to hire a total of 12,000 hourly employees in the U.S. by 2015. With the addition of the 1,400 new hourly workers in Flat Rock, Ford has already hired 75 percent of the 12,000, more than 6,000 of the new hires occurring in 2013 alone.
Samuel Crawford, who inspects Ford Mustang Shelby’s in their final phase of assembly, has worked at FRAP site for 26 years. Crawford remembers telling his teachers when he was a child he wanted to build Mustangs when he grew up. He has achieved his goal, but is equally excited about adding the Fusion to the line. “We are excited about this Fusion, everybody loves it, it brings a little chill to your body when you see this car coming down the line,” Crawford said.
As a seasoned veteran of assembly line work, Crawford said it has been a bit of a challenge getting the 1,400 new hires up to speed, but that everyone has been willing to help and the teamwork has been strong.
One new hire, Ann Marie Vanderlinden, a pre-delivery inspector, said trainers and co-workers like Crawford have been extremely welcoming and helpful. “The first day was a little intimidating,” Vanderlinden admitted, “But everyone here is great. They are all here to help you and you can ask any question and they will assist you.”
Vanderlinden is not only new to Ford, but new to the manufacturing industry as well. After losing her job of 19 years in the audio-visual industry to downsizing, Vanderlinden was thrilled to hear Ford was hiring. After passing preliminary employment testing, Vanderlinden waited to hear more. “Then I got a call saying I made it past the first stage and then another call requesting my email address. After that I received the letter telling me when to show up. I was so excited.”
To help prepare new hires for the rigors and cadence of working on the line, FRAP introduced a simulated-factory to provide hands-on training without slowing down the actual assembly line. This type of real-world experience also helps to reduce attrition and improve quality of manufacturing as well as the safety of the work environment.
Greg Hounshell, a trainer and chairman administrative assistant, spent the last three months training the 1,400 new employees and has a great appreciation for the new training tools.
“What that (simulated assembly line) does is, instead of them walking in that door and never having been in this kind of atmosphere or never having assembled a vehicle, they get hands-on experience beforehand and then they know what it’s like so they are more comfortable,” Hounshell said. “It takes the nervousness out of that first day.”
Other improvements to the facility in preparation for Fusion include the addition of a fully flexible body shop, which allows multiple models to be produced on the same line, upgrades to the paint shop to allow a three-wet paint process and the addition of laser brazing – a form of welding that helps attach Fusion’s roof to its body with a high-quality, aesthetically pleasing seam.
Hinrichs added, “All of these significant upgrades and improvements have transformed the Flat Rock Assembly Plant into an absolute showcase example of what an innovative, world-class Ford manufacturing facility can be. Congratulations!”
Jimmy Settles, vice president, UAW, also was on hand to congratulate the team.
Settles credited the wisdom of Ford Motor Company for having committed to this project and explained just how significant the move to bring Fusion production to the U.S. has been.
“For those that may or may not know it, I understand there are quite a few new people, this is a very historic day,” Settles said. “This is the first time we’ve been able to build the same vehicle in the U.S. that is also being built off shore.”
He also reminded the joyous crowd that the emotions in the plant were quite different just a short time ago.
“For those who were not here in 2010 and 2011, this very location was on the chopping block,” Settles said. “We didn’t even know if it was going to stay open and look at it now!”
MSNBC's Morning Joe at Ford's Flat Rock Assembly Plant
MSNBC’s Morning Joe, hosted by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, is going on the road with the theme Jump Starting Detroit for the day. The show did a live broadcastfrom Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant (FRAP) in Flat Rock, Mich. - Click on the below links for to watch clips from the broadcast. *Note: You must be inside the Ford firewall to access the clips.