It seems only yesterday that Ford Motor Company was making plans to turn the company’s Southampton, UK plant from making Transit vans to chassis- cabs in readiness for the launch of Transit 6.
That was in 2008. Since then, with Transit 6 now launched, the market in Europe has changed. The euro crisis and the economic downturn have forced Ford to “restructure”, as vehicle demand declines. The result is that Ford’s 2008/9 plans to ‘save’ its UK Transit plant in the wake of the 2012 run-out of Transit 5 have been ditched.
Even as close as August 2010, Ford was still preparing for the Southampton upgrade that would see the removal of the present body framing lines and robotised body-in-white production. There was even talk earlier this year Transit 6 chassis-cabs still being built at Southampton. Ford even extended the run-out of the Transit line from 2011 to 2012 in readiness for the launch of Transit 6 in 2013.
The upgrade would require the UK plant to switch completely to chassis-cab manufacture, effectively becoming a one-product centre of excellence.
However, the business model has changed in the light of market forces. Facility utilisation is unacceptably low with the result that Southampton will close in July 2013 with the loss of 500 jobs. Southampton is Ford’s last remaining UK vehicle manufacturing site.
Southampton builds a combination of short- and medium-wheelbase Transit vans and chassis-cabs. Chassis-cab manufacture will switch next year to the Ford Otosan plant in Kocaeli, Turkey where Transit production is concentrated.
Closure of Southampton will mark the end of 100 years of vehicle production in Britain. Over 2.2 million Transit vans have been made at Southampton since 1972. Previously, from 1965 to 1973, Transit vans were built at Langley, near Slough.
Typically Southampton could run at 125 jobs an hour, but the rate could rise to 130 jobs an hour, or even 135 jobs an hour in an emergency to meet demand.
With the introduction of chassis-cab manufacture Ford planned to increase the line rate to 150 jobs an hour, as the reduced work content of each vehicle would allow a faster cycle time. The hour content of the chassis-cab is reputedly less than the 17 hours required for each Transit. Vauxhall/Opel claims it can hit 20 hours per van in Luton.
In recent times, the Southampton plant has faced repeated doom and gloom. In 2009, some 600 workers were made redundant, leaving behind some 550 workers and about 200 sub-contract partners. In 2009, the plant built around 20,000 Transits but could produce 28,000.
Now the death knell has been sounded as the last Ford vehicle building facility in the UK will be shuttered next summer shut down.
On the wider front, Ford has seen sales fall 20 per cent since 2007 and is predicting a loss in its European operations in 2012 of US$1.9 billion (£930 million). Ford is also closing its Dagenham stamping plant with the loss of 900 jobs.
On the plus side, Ford is planning to launch a new 2-litre diesel engine, the Panther, at its Dagenham Engine Plant, and employ 200 more workers at its Bridgend Engine Plant.
However, so serious are Ford’s problems that in Belgium, the company will also shutter its Genk plant from 2014 with the loss of 4,300 jobs. Genk makes Mondeo and S-Max. Ford hopes closure of the three plants (18 per cent of output) will save between US$ 450 million and US$ 500 million a year - £279 million to £309 million a year. ∎