Ford deal secures 8,000 jobs at Land Rover plant

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The Independent Online

The future of Land Rover's Solihull plant in the West Midlands was secured last night after unions and management there reached agreement with Ford, the company's US owner, on productivity improvements designed to return the business to profit.

The future of Land Rover's Solihull plant in the West Midlands was secured last night after unions and management there reached agreement with Ford, the company's US owner, on productivity improvements designed to return the business to profit.

There had been fears that Ford would shut the plant altogether with the loss of 8,000 jobs and transfer production elsewhere had Land Rover not come up with an acceptable plan for raising efficiency and quality levels at the plant. Last week Mark Fields, the US head of Ford of Europe and the company's Premier Automotive Group, gave the union and management team at Land Rover a further seven days to produce an acceptable "road map" for returning to health.

Last night Ford and the union-management team said they had reached agreement, subject to the endorsement of the workforce at Solihull.

The plan will involve sweeping changes in working practices designed to raise Land Rover's competitiveness to the level of Jaguar - another of Ford's luxury marques - within three years and put it on a par with the "world class" standards of BMW, Mercedes and Lexus within five.

There will be no immediate job losses, however. "Job losses are not part of the discussion at this stage," a Land Rover spokesman said. "The focus is very much on quality and performance. Clearly this is the first stage in the journey. The key now is to get the support of the workforce for the plan."

Dave Osborne, the national car industry secretary for the Transport and General Workers Union, said: "On the basis of today's agreement we would expect that Solihull, which has been the home of Land Rover for over 50 years, to remain so for the next 50 years."

Workers at the factory will be consulted over the proposed changes to working practices, designed to improve the flexibility of the plant, over the next two weeks.

Ford has already decided to shift production of the next version of the Freelander to its Jaguar plant at Halewood on Merseyside from 2006. But it has undertaken to keep production of the Discovery, Defender and Range Rover at Solihull.

Ford's three upmarket UK brands - Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin - lost more than £200m between them in the second quarter of the year, sending the US car maker's European operations crashing into deficit. Land Rover is also near the bottom of the influential JD Power quality survey.

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