Ford has taken full control of its transmission production facility in Halewood, Merseyside, ending its 50/50 joint venture with German manufacturer Magna PT (previously Getrag).
The announcement has been welcomed by the plant's 700-plus employees, whose job prospects have looked uncertain since Ford closed its engine-building facility in Bridgend, Wales, and suggested further UK workforce cuts could have been possible. The 600 Getrag employees at Halewood will now be employed by Ford.
In 2019, Ford of Europe boss Stuart Rowley said a no-deal Brexit would force the company to "evaluate the environment with regards to tariffs and customs issues", hinting that its presence in Halewood - heavily diminished since Focus production was wholly established in Germany - was under threat.
Now, with a Brexit deal agreed, Ford is strengthening its commitment to its existing UK workforce by taking full control of the Merseyside site, adjoining Jaguar Land Rover's substantial production facility, as well as its transmission plant in Cologne, Germany, which had also been shared with Magna PT. The latter will, in turn, assume control of the shared facility in Bordeaux, France.
In an official statement, Ford said: “The current European Getrag Ford Transmissions (GFT) joint venture between Ford and Magna has ended as of today, 1 March. Ford is now the sole owner of the transmission plants in Halewood, UK, and Cologne, Germany, while Magna has taken on sole ownership of the transmission plant in Bordeaux, France.
“As part of this process, GFT, together with Ford and Magna, has worked with employee representatives and other stakeholders over many months to ensure that all the necessary measures are in place to make the changeover as smooth as possible.”
Ford's Halewood plant was originally home to production of the Anglia saloon, which paved the way for the immensely successful Escort. When that car was discontinued in 1998, Ford announced that production of its successor, the Focus, would take place in Saarlouis, Germany, and the Halewood vehicle production lines were eventually given over to then Ford-owned Jaguar Land Rover, which still produces several key models there.
Now, the transmission facility produces gearboxes for Ford models, and plant manager Andy Roche told the Liverpool Echo that the company's renewed commitment in the site hinted at big plans for Halewood.
He said: "We are convinced now with Ford coming in to buy us that they've got plans for us. They took us for a purpose and will want to invest - they're not going to buy us to shut it down. We see this as a protection of jobs.
"So any new jobs that they create, they will be Ford employees, which is fantastic. It's fantastic to be associated with a world-renowned company."
News of Halewood's secured future comes following Ford's high-profile announcement that its European line-up would be electric-only by 2030. As part of the strategy outline, Rowley said the firm's other UK production facility - the diesel engine plant in Dagenham, London - would continue to be "an important part of our business" as diesel is still in high demand in the commercial vehicle sector.