Ford to close Halewood plant for one week

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The Independent Online
FORD'S Halewood car plant on Merseyside is to close down completely for a week next month in a move that further underlines the depressed state of the motor industry.

Confirmation of the shutdown comes days after Ford announced that its Dagenham factory in east London, which makes the Fiesta, and the Southampton Transit van factory are to be put on short- time working in September because of falling sales.

There was further grim news for the industry in the shape of figures showing that Europe-wide car sales fell 15 per cent in July, and 65 more job losses at the luxury car maker Aston Martin, a Ford subsidiary.

The company blamed the redundancies at its factory in Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, on 'a worldwide recession, the like of which we have never seen before'.

The one-week closure at Halewood, starting on 21 September, will affect nearly 9,000 workers and will mean the loss of about 5,000 Escorts and Orions. In the following week Halewood will only produce on four days.

'The decision has been made to adjust output to what we foresee to be demand in the last third of the year. That demand will be lower than we had hoped for,' a Ford spokesman said.

Commenting on the shutdown at the Halewood plant, Jimmy Airlie, Ford negotiator for the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, said: 'This is developing into a crisis for the motor industry.'

Earlier this week, Albert Caspers, Ford of Europe vice-president for manufacturing, warned that Ford's four main UK plants were at risk if the group found itself with surplus capacity.

Ford subsequently denied that it had any intention of closing down any of the plants and said Mr Caspers' remarks had been taken out of context.

The UK plants were at no greater risk than other Ford factories on the Continent and Mr Caspers' comments had related to a hypothetical situation in which there was such a sustained fall in sales than Ford had substantial overcapacity, it said.

Ford, in common with other UK car makers, has been badly affected by a sharp drop in domestic sales combined with a decline in European demand that has robbed it of export markets for British-built cars.

New car registrations in the key month of August, which traditionally accounts for up to a quarter of sales for the year, are expected to fall a long way short of the industry's initial hopes. Sales are not expected to exceed 370,000-380,000 against earlier forecasts of 400,000.

At the same time a number of key European markets are also beginning to suffer. Sales in Germany, the biggest car market in Europe, fell 36 per cent last month while sales in Belgium were down 18 per cent in July from the previous year.

UK car makers had been relying on continental sales to prop up production levels. More than half the 1,200 Fiestas made each day at Dagenham are exported, while Rover will export nearly half its production this year.

However, Rover has been forced to follow Ford's lead, putting 2,000 employees at its Longbridge plant in Birmingham on short-time working to reduce output of Minis and Metros.

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