No Happy Return To UK Car Building For Ford

Roger Putnam, Ford of Britain's chairman, has ruled out a return to building blue-oval badged cars in the UK three years after the company abandoned its last car-producing operation at Dagenham.

He claimed it was impossible to compete with low-cost production areas when producing high-volume products and Ford would concentrate on producing Premier Automotive Group cars and building engines.

Putnam said: "Unless you are a Japanese sub assembler you cannot get the critical mass or cost benefits or compete with markets which are moving ever eastwards, including eastern Europe.

"To try and compete with the low-cost territories by starting again in the UK would be impossible. I think it is a fact of life that has been coming for a while. It does not help to have an endlessly volatile exchange rate which makes the business on a global basis so unpredictable."

He also pointed to the problem of training and attracting skilled people into the manufacturing sector. Putnam added: "We have never been on the cutting edge of efficiency and flexibility although our Jaguar Halewood and Transit Southampton plants show what can be achieved."

Ford's UK chairman questioned if forecast record sales for this year will materialise, citing Ford's forecast of "being just shy of last year" although he admitted the company had increased orders recently.

Putnam added: "There are three things lurking in the background, oil and steel prices plus interest rates, things which keep you awake at night."

But he doubted if interest rates would rise sufficiently to create a "market wobble" because of the detrimental impact on the pound's value.

Although economies of scale have lead to Ford branded car production leaving the UK, the company continues to recognise the British motor show as the ideal platform to showcase their range of cars. This year, Ford's collaboration with the forthcoming Thunderbirds movie has added a further dimension, and has made the Ford stand one of the biggest attractions at the show.

The 7,400-square metre display, costing several million pounds, is Ford's largest-ever European show display and generated 36,000 man hours employing 200 people to build it. 300,000 litres of water fill the lake round Tracey Island while five metric tonnes of sand were also used in its construction.

Published 27 May 2004 Melanie Carter

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