Ford axes British van plants to stem Europe losses

LONDON/BASILDON, England - Ford will stop making vans in Britain next year, with the potential loss of 2,000 jobs, as part of a plan by the U.S. car maker to drag its European operations back into profit.

By Rhys Jones And Alessandra Prentice (Reuters)

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Published: Thu 25 Oct 2012, 6:03 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 12:28 PM

A union leader said Ford would shut a factory in Southampton which makes the Transit van and also close down a stamping press at its plant in Dagenham which that supplies body parts for the van.

The move ends more than a century of vehicle production by the U.S. car maker in Britain, leaving it producing only engines and other parts at its remaining plants in the country.

It is the fourth vehicle plant closure in Europe announced this year and comes a day after Ford said it would shut its 48-year-old Genk plant in Belgium by 2014, with the loss of 4,300 jobs, as part of a wide-ranging restructuring programme.

“In 2013 Ford is closing its stamping plant in Dagenham and the Transit van plant in Southampton and that could lead to the loss of a couple of thousand jobs,” said Roger Maddison, the Unite union’s national officer for the automotive industry.

“This means all production for the Transit van will move to Turkey.”

Ford declined official comment on plans for its British operations. Ford executives were due to speak to analysts and investors on a conference call at 0900 EST (1300 GMT) on Thursday.

News on jobs in Britain had also been expected after the firm summoned senior officials from its employees’ trade unions to an emergency meeting at 10 a.m. (0900 GMT) at its national headquarters in Basildon, near London.

The exact number of job cuts was not clear. Dagenham employs more than 900 people on stamping and more than 500 at Southampton.

Ford’s engine plant at Dagenham in Essex escaped the cuts and is likely to see growth plans. A source close to Ford had said it would unveil plans to produce new diesel engines in Dagenham, which employs some 4,000 staff making engines and panels.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley believe Ford is “demonstrating the vision and industrial courage” to make tough decisions that will pay off long term. The U.S. autos giant employs 11,400 at British sites which also include Halewood, near Liverpool, and Bridgend in South Wales.

The Swaythling factory at Southampton, on England’s south coast, has built about 6 million Ford Transit vans in 45 years but in 2009 the workforce was cut to around 500 from roughly 1,000 when the plant moved to a one-shift operation.

“The Transit van is associated with the ‘white van man’ tradesmen in Britain and is iconic, like London’s black cabs, and it will be sad to see it go,” said Madison.

Earlier this week Manganese Bronze, maker of London’s black taxis, said it is set to appoint administrators after failing to secure funding needed to survive, putting hundreds of British jobs at risk.

Securing increased production by foreign-owned car makers based in Britain had hitherto been one of the few bright spots in Britain’s drive to boost manufacturing.

Earlier this year, General Motors Co opted to build the next generation of its Astra compact in Britain, instead of at its German plant in Bochum.

Japan’s Nissan, Toyota and Honda as well as Tata Motors’ Jaguar Land Rover have all committed to production in Britain in recent months.

The shutdown of Ford’s Southampton plant would be the fourth European vehicle plant closure announced this year, after PSA Peugeot Citroën said it would close a site near Paris and General Motors’ decision in May to shutter Bochum.

The past two years have also seen plant closures by Fiat in Sicily, General Motors in Belgium and Saab in Sweden.

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