Ford to shut two factories for week

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FORD IS to close two of its biggest car and van plants for a week in a move that underlines the economy's slide deeper into recession.

There will be no production next week at the Dagenham factory in Essex or at Southampton, resulting in the loss of 7,000 Fiesta cars and Transit vans.

The announcement came as Ford disclosed that it lost dollars 464m ( pounds 300m) in the third quarter on its worldwide car manufacturing operations, with Britain and the rest of Europe accounting for about 75 per cent of those losses. Jaguar, its luxury car subsidiary, lost dollars 100m.

The shutdown of the two UK plants comes just two days after British Steel announced a 20 per cent cut in production because of the slump in demand from the car, engineering and construction industries.

Ford blamed the cuts in production on the continuing decline in car sales, which are set to fall for the third year running. The shutdown will affect 6,800 workers. They will either stay at home or be put on maintenance and training for the week.

When production resumes Dagenham will return to a three-day week for the rest of November while Southampton will only make Transits four days a week for the remainder of the month.

The cuts were greeted with dismay by unions. Jimmy Airlie, chief Ford negotiator for the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, said: 'The motor business is the barometer of British industry and this shows we are now sinking to the lowest depths of the slump.

'The engine of the economy is spluttering to a halt, yet the Government just sits back while industry collapses around them.'

Dagenham normally produces about 5,500 Fiestas a week while Southampton makes 1,500 Transit vans.

Both factories have been exporting more vehicles this year to compensate for the slump in domestic sales. But overseas demand is now also beginning to falter.

UK car sales are expected to dip to 1.55 million this year compared with 1.59 million in 1991 and 2.3 million in 1989.

While the company does not break out profits for each country, 'Britain was by far the most negative factor' in the dismal European results, Harold Poling, chairman, said in Detroit yesterday.

A year ago Ford's operations outside North America were a bright spot for the car maker, earning dollars 554m compared with this year's dollars 311m loss.

Mr Poling blamed the losses on weak economies in the US and Europe, adding that instability in European currency markets has caused lower sales across the Continent. If the US economy does not start to pick up, declining European sales are likely to extend Ford Motor's losses into the fourth quarter, he said.

Ford expects to sell 12.7 million cars in Europe this year, down 2 per cent, and predicts a further decline in sales next year, with most of the losses coming from Germany.

The company's car-making troubles were largely offset by record profits in its financial services subsidiary. Ford's overall loss for the quarter was dollars 159m, or 43 cents a share, an improvement over the same period in 1991 when it lost dollars 574m.

But this year's loss was almost double Wall Street's average expectation, and comes amid even worse news at Ford's rival, General Motors.

TOKYO - Japan's car exports rose 8 per cent from a year ago to 550,073 in September, Reuter reports.

It was the first year-on-year gain in six months, partly due to higher shipments to Europe, an official of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association said.

September vehicle exports comprised 434,976 cars, up 9 per cent from a year ago, 108,539 trucks, up 3 per cent and 6,558 buses, up 32 per cent.

Exports to non-US areas increased in September for seasonal reasons, the official said.

Overall vehicle sales in Europe rose 4.7 per cent from a year ago in September including a 7 per cent year-on-year sales growth in Germany, the official said.