Ford marked one milestone with another Wednesday afternoon.
Forty-nine years after the Ford Mustang made its debut at the New York Auto Show, the assembly plant where the sports car is now produced moved its 1 millionthMustang off the production line.
About 25 miles southwest of Detroit, the Flat Rock Assembly Plant has been home to the Mustang’s production for the past nine years. It has produced an average of 304 Mustangs per day.
On Wednesday, employees gathered around as the longest-tenured employee at the plant, planning and logistics manager Ed Salna, made a right turn off the end of the production line in a ruby red 2014 Mustang convertible and revved the engine at 1:45 p.m.
“I remember when Ford Motor Company wanted to end the Mustang,” said UAW vice president Jimmy Settles, on hand for the spectacle. “I also remember when it was $99 down and $99 a month.”
That bargain price helped Mustang beat expectations when it launched in April 1964. Ford initially produced it at its Rouge factory in Dearborn, Mich., and the company was soon selling more Mustangs than it could make. By early 1965, Ford expanded production to Metuchen, N.J., and San Jose, Calif. Combine sales figures from all of its plants, and Ford has sold more than 8.5 million Mustangs.
Sports cars have been a tougher sell lately. The recent recession forced customers – when they bought cars at all – to buy more practical vehicles and eschew the possibility of purchases based on fun.
Sales still haven’t recovered. This year, Ford has sold 17,320 Mustangs through March, a 14 percent decrease over the same time period last year. It also trails the Chevy Camaro, which has also seen a similar sales decline, by 1,878 units so far this year.
But Wednesday, sales figures weren’t on the mind of the employees at Flat Rock, who will see their ranks swell with 1,400 new jobs as Ford adds a second shift to start production of its hot-selling Fusion sedan later this year.
The 1 millionth car looked like a celebrity, as several hundred employees gathered in a half-moon around the car, held their cell phones up over the assembled crowd, and snapped pictures.
Their moment to appreciate their handiwork was short-lived. At 1:50 p.m., a voice came on the loudspeaker inside the plant and said, “Everybody please report back to your work stations. The conveyor re-starts at 1:55.”