What went mistaken at Ford's Bridgend plant?

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Bridgend was initially constructed to provide engines for the Escort
Ford is shutting its Welsh engine manufacturing facility after 40 years. We take a look at the the reason why

Ford’s closure of its Bridgend engine plant ends a chapter that started on the peak of the model’s reputation within the UK within the 1970s and displays present adjustments in automobile purchaser’s tastes, misdirected product planning and strain to affect its fleet to hit EU CO2 targets. 

The Bridgend closure shall be devastating for the 1700 staff however it can additionally hit an extra 5000 or so within the wider financial system. “We worry the knock-on impact and will probably be substantial,” stated Tim Williams of the Welsh Automotive Discussion board, an alliance of automobile trade companies in Wales. 

There’s a glimmer of hope within the form of Aston Martin’s St Athan plant, 12 miles to the south-east, however the possibilities of Ineos taking area to construct its Grenadier 4×4 on the Ford website have now light. 

Aston now represents the longer term for the automobile trade in Wales. It constructed its first DBX crossover at St Athan final week, with recruitment for 550 new meeting employees on account of begin in September. “I’m positive we can have loads of purposes from the Bridgend space,” stated an Aston spokesman. 

Suppliers to Ford may also be affected, though few main element makers are native. Block castings, for instance, are trucked in from Eire and the plant has an prolonged provide chain stretching onto mainland Europe. 

Regardless of the drawn-out provide chain, potential customs delays and sterling weak spot, Ford has denied a hyperlink to Brexit in its resolution to close Bridgend in September 2020. So what induced the plant’s closure? 

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Dr Peter Wells of Cardiff Enterprise College lists a number of contributing components, the important thing ones being gross sales and market associated: “The Dragon engine [the 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine used in the Fiesta ST and Focus] just isn’t promoting in addition to hoped, Ford is operating the plant nicely beneath capability and it must make value cuts.” 

As with all mid-market manufacturers, Ford’s gross sales have been squeezed and in Europe have fluctuated up to now decade between 1.75 million and 1.33m, recovering to just about 1.6m now. 

Market share has nearly halved up to now 30 years – from round 11% in 1990 to six% in 2018. “Ford’s market share in Europe is identical as BMW’s, but it could actually’t command premium pricing, so it’s having to search out value cuts,” stated Wells. 

Supposed to exchange the four-cylinder Sigma engine launched in 2011, the Dragon engine arrived simply as Ford confronted having to spend money on hybrid and battery powertrains and whereas its cheaper, extra frugal 1.Zero-litre engine is on the rise. 

“Ford’s product planning has simply gone mistaken,” stated Wells. 

The Dragon has too giant a displacement for the non-ST Fiesta and the Ka+, whereas the three-cylinder 1.Zero-litre engine inbuilt Romania and Germany has grow to be the core petrol engine for the Fiesta and Focus ranges. The 1.Zero-litre can be obtainable in 138bhp kind, closing the hole to the 148bhp Dragon. 

Different fashions that would have taken the Dragon, such because the C-Max and B-Max, are being discontinued and the brand new Puma crossover is arriving at a time when plug-in and gentle hybrids are the important powerplants. Ford’s new hybrid powertrain relies on a high-efficiency Atkinson combustion cycle, which, Ford says, makes hybridising the Dragon uneconomic. 

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This can be a very speedy fall from grace for a brand-new design that went into manufacturing solely final October at a value of £100m. It’s more likely to end its third and closing full 12 months at round solely 80,000 items – a 3rd lower than the 125,000 capability at Bridgend. Given the plant constructed 701,000 engines as lately as 2014, this proved a deadly drop in output. 

Even from the beginning, Ford might see threats to its Dragon funding. The plan from 2015 envisaged 250,000 items a 12 months and £181m of funding, but two years later, that advanced to simply 125,000 items with funding of £100m. 

Product planning dictated a lot of this revision: the Dragon couldn’t be slotted straight into Ford’s bigger fashions as a result of they had been designed round four-cylinder engines. Though the Dragon will proceed to be wanted, will probably be equipped from lower-cost Mexico and/or China in two vegetation already tooled to construct it. 

In fact, different components are at play. Bridgend’s contract to construct Jaguar Land Rover’s AJ V8 and V6 petrols will end simply earlier than the plant closes. 

Of the 650,000 items constructed at Bridgend in 2016, round 145,000 had been JLR engines. JLR is changing the V6 with a straight six. At one time, the brand new six was rumoured to be going into Bridgend onto the road that when constructed the ‘SI6’ Three-2-litre six fitted to some Land Rover and Volvo fashions. 

However these plans have modified, too, and as a substitute JLR’s new six shall be inbuilt Wolverhampton and the V8 might come from BMW. 

Ford will keep diesel engine manufacturing at Dagenham and engineering at Dunton in Essex, so it’s hoped the closure of Bridgend is the final adjustment to its UK footprint for now.

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How Bridgend got here to be

When plans for a brand new engine plant in Bridgend had been introduced in 1977, Ford was driving excessive from a few years of UK and European gross sales success. The extremely worthwhile Cortina and the Escort had taken Ford’s UK market share to 25% and its manufacturing vegetation at Halewood and Dagenham had been pumping out 400,000 vehicles a 12 months, largely for the house market. 

However with a brand new front-drive period forward and the Escort Mk3 due for launch in 1980, Ford wanted a brand new plant to construct the forthcoming CVH engine. 

Enter the Labour authorities of the time within the form of prime minister Jim Callaghan, whose constituency was in Cardiff, an influence base in industrial South Wales, and a bundle of incentives to tempt Ford. 

In actual fact, Bridgend was a uncommon success story at a time of upheaval in a strike-prone British automobile trade. 

Callaghan struck up an unlikely friendship with Henry Ford II, grandson of the corporate founder, and to clinch the £180 million Bridgend funding – equal as we speak to £1 billion – Callaghan personally gave assurances in regards to the conduct of the workforce. 

Satirically, not the meeting employees, however the building employees constructing the plant. Ford was very involved that strikes would delay Bridgend from opening on time and harm the start-up of front-drive Escort manufacturing in Halewood. The PM’s assurance secured the deal and the plant started CVH manufacturing in 1980.

Learn extra

Ford Bridgend closure: additional jobs might go in no-deal Brexit​

Ineos confirms BMW engines for 2021 Projekt Grenadier 4×4​

Ford to ‘redesign’ European enterprise​


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