(Updates with staffing comments before Pony subheadline.)
Aug. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co. begins building the sixth generation of its 50-year-old Mustang sports car today at a Michigan plant that will export it to more than 120 countries.
For the first time, a right-hand-drive version will be made, for sale in more than 25 markets such as the U.K., Australia and South Africa, the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker said in a statement. The 2015 Mustang starts at $24,425, a 4.7 percent increase from this year’s base model.
Ford wants to widen the appeal of a quintessential muscle car, which has been outsold by General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet Camaro for the past four years. The Mustang, which Executive Chairman Bill Ford has called the company’s “most important product,” has long helped woo buyers to its broader lineup. The redesign aims to meet global safety standards while retaining classic cues such as the long hood and three-bar taillights.
“It’s been designed to be accepted globally,” said Michael Robinet, an analyst at consultant IHS Automotive. “But there’s still a lot of traditional American design in that vehicle. That’s the allure of it.”
While Mustang fans want styling that evokes the model’s muscle-car history, modern car-buyers demand the latest technology, such as adaptive cruise control, navigation systems and cross-traffic alerts, said Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas.
“So we’re going to give that to them with the Mustang DNA,” he said in an interview today on Bloomberg Television.
The Mustang is being built at a Flat Rock, Michigan, factory, south of Detroit, that also makes the Fusion sedan. The two cars have similar grilles but share few parts, Robinet said. If sales take off for either model, Ford could add a third crew of workers at the plant and boost annual production to more than 300,000 vehicles, from about 220,000 now, he said.
“Ford now has the flexibility to turn the volume knob up or down at Flat Rock,” said Robinet, who is based in Northville, Michigan. “They have the ability to allow the Mustang to stretch its legs from an export perspective.”
Ford will decide about that in about a year, Hinrichs said today at the factory.
“There’s definitely available capacity for a third shift,” said Hinrichs, who added that Flat Rock is one of Ford’s only plants operating on just two shifts. “We’ll know by the second half of 2015 how global demand is going.”
The United Auto Workers would welcome the addition of U.S. jobs, said Jimmy Settles, the union vice president who represents Ford workers.
“We’ll agree to a third shift right now if Joe says yes,” he said. But “they’re not going to give us any raises, they’re not going to give us products prior to the negotiations” next year for a new contract.
Mustang sales in the U.S. rose 3.9 percent to 50,795 this year through July, after declining 7 percent to 77,186 for all of last year.
Camaro sales climbed 13 percent through July to 56,633, after falling 4.5 percent to 80,567 in 2013. The Camaro, redesigned in 2009, overtook the Mustang a year later, ending Ford’s 24-year run with the top-selling sports car in the U.S. Buyers of these models tend to respond to new designs, Hinrichs said.
The Mustang’s best sales were in the 1960s, when Ford built more than 600,000 in a year.
Ford pioneered so-called pony cars with the introduction of the Mustang in April 1964, and it appeared in Switzerland in that year’s James Bond movie “Goldfinger.” Four years later in “Bullitt,” Steve McQueen’s good guy drove a roaring, squealing Mustang in an extended scene that helped redefine the movie car chase.
GM’s Camaro scored a casting coup by landing the role of Bumblebee in the “Transformers” movie franchise, which helped it attract a younger audience. The Camaro has appeared in all four of the films, in 2007, 2009, 2011 and this year.
The new Mustang, which is lower and wider, comes in three engine configurations -- the base 300-horsepower V-6, a 310- horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder and a 435-horsepower V-8, Ford said.
The Mustang is one of 23 new models Ford is debuting this year. The automaker’s U.S. sales have fallen 0.4 percent this year through July and it has said 2014 profit will slip as it retools factories and spends to introduce new vehicles. Ford posted net income of $2.3 billion in this year’s first half, a decline from $2.84 billion a year earlier.
Ford declined 0.5 percent to $17.27 at 11:51 a.m. New York time. The shares gained 12.5 percent through yesterday.
--With assistance from Matthew Miller and Betty Liu in New York.