FLAT ROCK, Mich. - Joe Hinrichs is playing catch-up. But as automaking challenges go, this is the type of problem executives relish.

FLAT ROCK, Mich. — Joe Hinrichs is playing catch-up. But as automaking challenges go, this is the type of problem executives relish.

Ford’s midsize vehicles, namely the Fusion sedan and Escape sport-utility vehicle, are in short supply, and executives say sales would be even higher if they could squeeze out more production.

“We could have sold more if we had more,” Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas, said at Ford’s Flat Rock assembly plant, which began Fusion production Thursday after months of training and prototypes.

Ford’s facility in Hermosillo, Mexico, will continue to make about 250,000 Fusions on three shifts while Flat Rock will add about 100,000 Fusions a year on two shifts. The automaker has added 1,400 workers at Flat Rock, where it also assembles the Ford Mustang.

Hinrichs would not say whether it is more costly to make Fusions in Michigan than in Mexico, but Ford’s top two executives, CEO Alan Mulally and Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields, basked in the publicity MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” showered on the company by broadcasting their Thursday show from the factory.

Wages are lower in Mexico, but all but 100 to 150 of the 1,400 additional jobs in Flat Rock are second-tier, which means they pay $15.78 an hour. The rest of the 1,700 Flat Rock employees are first-tier workers, who make $28.50 an hour. Freight costs are less from Michigan than from Mexico to most U.S. dealerships.

“We wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t profitable growth,” Hinrichs said of the $555 million Flat Rock investment and addition of a second shift.

Flat Rock is preparing to add the next-generation Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS full-size sedans, now built in Chicago. The new body shop is capable of making seven different vehicles from different underpinnings.

“I don’t think we’re done yet,” said UAW Local 3000 Chairman Tony Bondy, hinting at more products to come.

Hinrichs would not comment on whether Flat Rock could make the Escape in the future to address shortages of the compact utility vehicle.

Other speculation has been that Ford will move Fiesta production out of Mexico to free capacity for other stronger-selling vehicles.

“We’re going to continue to look at where we need to move product around to leverage all the assets to meet the growing demand for our products,” Hinrichs said.

“I’m spending a lot of time working on the manufacturing plan,” said Hinrichs, who rose up the ranks with a number of manufacturing jobs.

Jimmy Settles, head of the UAW Ford division, said the company’s growth could lead to 8,000 more jobs than the 12,000 the automaker has promised by 2015, but he later called that prediction wishful thinking.

“All of our assembly plants are full, but some of our components plants are not,” Settles said. “We’ll take work wherever we can get it.”

Settles noted that a few years ago the Flat Rock plant, operating with a single shift, was on the chopping block. “We didn’t know if this plant would stay open. Look at us now.”

Hinrichs also said that the new Mondeo (the Fusion’s twin) goes on sale Thursday in China. But the car does not have a larger backseat because it tends to be bought by Chinese who like to drive, as opposed to the many cars sold to Chinese buyers who prefer to be driven.


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