The Ford Southampton plant is a motor vehicle assembly plant, located in Swaythling on the north eastern outskirts of Southampton, England. It is the current western European home to the production of the Ford Transit van.
The plant, purposefully located on a 44-acre (180,000 m²) site near to Southampton Airport, was built as a shadow factory to assemble aircraft components for engineering firm Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft, opened by the Mayor of Southampton on 2 February 1939. At the outbreak of World War 2, its whole supply chain was switched to produce parts for the Supermarine Spitfire. Recognised as an important part of the British war effort, it was bombed on a number of occasions by the NaziLuftwaffe, the first in September 1940. In the latter years of the war, the site was used to assemble the Spitfire.
After Cunliffe-Owen was placed in receivership in 1947, the factory was bought in 1949 by Briggs Motor Bodies, who supplied Ford of Britain with bodies for their vehicles. In 1953 Ford acquired Briggs, and hence gained control of the 630,000 square feet (59,000 m²) Southampton plant. The factory now specialised in building truck bodies, which were attached to the chassis that had been produced at Slough.
From 1965, Ford had started to produce the Ford Transit in Great Britain, with bodies from Swayling shipped up the M3 motorway to be mated with chassis at the Langley, Berkshire factory, near Slough. In 1972, Ford of Britain invested £5M in the Southampton plant, enabling it to make the complete Transit van. The first Transit rolled off of the production line in the same year, given to the mayor to be used as a gift for a local charity. from this point until the mid-1980s was the height of production, with the factory employing 4,500 workers.
In 1983, with construction of the M27 motorway starting, the site was permenantly cut-off from Southampton Airport. This made a compact site even more so, with: the motorway to the north; a railway to the south; a graveyard to the east; and pinned in by Southampton Airport. This makes parts of the factory unique, with the paint shop arranged on the vertical axis over six stories, as opposed to the traditional horizontal layout.
In 2002, Ford stopped producing passenger cars in the UK, leaving the Southampton made Transit as their only British-made vehicle. In 2009, with the new Kocaeli, Turkey, plant in full production, Ford resultantly halved production at Southampton and reduced the workforce to just over 500. The 6millionth Ford Transit rolled off of the production line in 2009.
Currently employing 500 workers, engines are sourced from either the Dagenham or Bridgend plants. This allows the factory to produce upto 75,000 vehicles annually, of which 50% are exported.
The Transit is also assembled in Kocaeli, alongside the smaller Ford Transit Connect. In early 2011, Ford of Europe confirmed that Southampton would continue to make the short and medium wheelbase, and Tourneo minibus versions of the Transit until the end of 2011. Production of these units then consolidated to Turkey in 2012, while Southampton continues as the European centre for the chassis-cab variant of Transit, with production ramped up to 35,000 units a year.
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