Alisa Priddle, Detroit Free Press
Ford plans to hire about 5,000 employees in the U.S. next year, during which it plans to launch 16 new vehicles in North America, including the 2015 Mustang and F-Series pickup truck.
The jobs will include salaried and hourly positions and are in addition to 14,000 added during the last two years in preparation for the new product onslaught, said Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas.
Separately, Ford's board of directors met in Dearborn, Mich., Thursday amid reports it wants CEO Alan Mulally to clarify his plans either to stay at Ford or take the helm at Microsoft, which has courted him for several months.
Ford issued a statement that Mulally plans to stay through 2014. Neither the board nor Microsoft issued a statement on the matter.
The jobs announcement comes as the U.S. industry wraps up its best sales year since 2007, fueled by easier credit and rising consumer confidence. Ford will launch 23 vehicles globally, 16 in North America, including the Ford F-150, Mustang and Transit. Lincoln will expand its lineup with the MKC compact crossover.
"2014 will be our biggest year for product launches in our 111-year history," Hinrichs said. "We keep investing in product."
General Motors and Chrysler also have been adding jobs and new vehicle launches the past two years as the improving economy has unleashed a torrent of pent-up demand in the post-Great Recession and post-bankruptcy era. Ford, GM and Chrysler products have won accolades for higher quality and winning new designs.
For Ford, about 2,000 hourly jobs, including 1,000 new hires, will be added at the Kansas City, Mo., plant where Ford has spent $1.1 billion to retool to make the new Transit commercial van next spring.
Ford is adding 3,300 salaried workers in 2014 after adding 3,000 white-collar workers already this year.
Many of the salaried jobs are in product development, manufacturing, quality and information technology. Of the 400 engineering positions that will be filled, a quarter will work on hybrids.
To ensure quality with so many launches, Hinrichs said the automaker has hired technical engineers to help suppliers prepare for the year ahead. Suppliers are crucial to the launch of any new vehicle because they often are delivering new components and adjusting to a new production process.
Ford has had some quality problems with vehicles launched in the last two years. The new Lincoln MKZ sedan was delayed this spring to fix some quality issues. The company recently recalled its Escape SUV for the seventh time, this time to fix oil and fuel leaks.
Ford will open three new plants next year. Two are in Asia Pacific, where it will be hiring about 6,000 workers, and one is in South America. In North America, there has been much retooling and adding of shifts to handle demand for hot-selling products.
Ford also unveiled the Ford Fusion hybrid research car. The third-generation research vehicle has been in the works for a year and is the culmination of a decade of work under the company's Blueprint for Mobility.
The goal is safer driving with the aid of automated driving technology to park, accelerate, brake and steer, allowing the car to do the stops and starts of bumper-to-bumper traffic.
The research car has a 360-degree camera that takes data from four laser sensors that generate a three-dimensional map of everything around it so the car can make its own driving decisions.
The expensive equipment is akin to that on the Google self-driving car.
Raj Nair, head of global product development, said much of the technology, such as self-parking and traffic jam assist, will be on vehicles during the next five years, but the driver will remain in control.
He said he hopes scale and advances will bring the cost of the technology down to make self-driving vehicles affordable.