More than 500 British jobs were under threat last night as expectations mounted that Ford will announce the closure of its Southampton plant today.
Ford sent shockwaves through Europe's car industry yesterday, announcing the closure of its "under-utilised" 48-year-old Genk plant in Belgium by 2014, with the loss of 4,300 jobs, as the first part of a far-reaching restructuring programme.
The car-maker also summoned British shop stewards to an emergency meeting at its Basildon headquarters at 10am today in a move that fuelled speculation that the axe was also set to fall in the UK.
The Swaythling factory on the outskirts of Southampton, which has built Ford Transit vans since 1972 and employs 530 staff, is thought to be the victim, and could potentially cease production as early as next year.
Belgian trade union leaders were told of the Genk plant's closure at a meeting yesterday morning before Ford announced the move, a pattern that Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, expects to be repeated in her constituency today.
Ms Nokes said yesterday: "I've always had concerns about the factory and it now looks like there will be an announcement tomorrow indicating that it's going to close." In a statement that did nothing to quell speculation, a Ford spokesman said: "We are reviewing all areas of the business to address the near-term challenges while ensuring a strong business for the future.
"We will communicate with all stakeholders at the appropriate time," he added, ahead of a teleconference this afternoon at which chief executive Alan Mulally will provide more details of the overhaul.
Ford refused to discuss plans for its UK operations, where the company employs 11,400 people at sites including Dagenham, Halewood, Bridgend and Southampton, ahead of today's meetings.
Genk is the first assembly plant Ford has closed in Europe for 10 years and the announcement comes after the company warned it will lose about $1bn in the continent this year.
Car demand across Europe is at a 20-year low, with IHS Automotive, the consultant, forecasting that it will remain below pre-crisis levels until at least 2017.