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Ford's sleek new pony off and running

Ford began production of the all-new 2015 Mustang on Thursday, and if it sells well the Flat Rock, Michigan, assembly plant could add a third shift.

There are some hurdles to overcome first.

The sixth-generation of the pony car, which will be sold globally for the first time, must meet or exceed Ford’s sales projections.

Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of The Americas, said the automaker can better gauge its success in the second half of 2015, after the early adopters have bought their new car. Sales in overseas markets won’t start until next year.

About two years ago the Flat Rock complex was operating a single shift and was in danger of being closed.

It was saved with the decision to add the Ford Fusion to augment the three shifts of production at a plant in Her­mo­sillo, Mexico, that could not keep up with demand.

Ford invested $555 million to make Flat Rock flexible enough to make multiple vehicles. A second shift was added in August 2013 to boost Fusion production. Today the plant employs about 3,000.

Jimmy Settles, UAW vice president for Ford, wants to lock in additional product promises and jobs now, but Ford is not ready to make a commitment.

“We ask for a lot, the company wants to give us a little. Somehow we come to agreements,” Settles said after a ceremony during which he and Hinrichs drove the first 2015 Mustang off the assembly line.

The red GT coupe has been sold to Texas dealer Sam Pack for $300,000. He is donating the money to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

The first convertible will be added in a few months.

The 2015 Mustang will be exported to 120 countries, including such right-hand drive countries as the United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa.

Hinrichs said North America remains the biggest market and will likely account for more than 60 percent of sales.

The car goes on sale here this fall.

Ford has sold almost 50,800 Mustangs so far this year, trailing its rival Chevrolet Camaro which has sold more than 56,600.

In April, Ford celebrated the 50th anniversary of the original Mustang. In commemoration of this, each 2015 model has a badge on the instrument panel with the galloping pony logo and the words “Mustang – Since 1964.”

Ford has sold more than 9.2 million Mustangs over the last 50 years.