Job losses loom for Ford in Ireland, but has corner been turned?

Reception for electric Mustang-badged crossover indicates firm’s plans may bear fruit

Motoring in the right direction: the all-electric Mustang Mach-E crossover has made people feel a lot more positive about the Ford brand. Photograph: Ringo Chiu/EPA

Motoring in the right direction: the all-electric Mustang Mach-E crossover has made people feel a lot more positive about the Ford brand. Photograph: Ringo Chiu/EPA

 

Sadly, we have been here before. When Ford closed its factory in Marina, Cork, in 1984, it was the end of an era that stretched back to 1917 and the factory’s opening along with the employment of 7,000 people.

Such large job losses are not on the line right now, but Ford’s Irish operations are slowly, terribly, becoming something of a shadow of their former selves. The Ford Motor Company is spasming its way through a massive, painful, global restructuring process which will mean 12,000 jobs go in Europe alone.

Some of those losses will hit Ford’s Irish operations, known uniquely in the pantheon of global Ford subsidiaries as Henry Ford & Son Ltd – a mark of respect to the Ford family’s home country and town.

That uniqueness will dwindle now as more responsibility for Ford sales in Ireland will be taken over by Ford of Great Britain. The official line coming from Ford’s base on the Boreenmanna Road in Cork is: “Negotiations over future operations and any potential job losses are ongoing.”

Worryingly, they have been ongoing for some time now, and one Ford insider expressed frustration to The Irish Times that “morale is terrible in Cork right now and people are left in limbo. Quite a few have gone already, but those who’ve applied for the redundancy package can’t leave until they know what’s happening. I wish I had a happier tale to tell you.”

What seems likely is that Henry Ford & Son will be left with a skeleton staff in Cork once the process has finished. Fewer than 20 will be employed exclusively on Irish operations and possibly as few as 14. All will ultimately be reporting to Ford in the UK, which is going through its own redundancy and relocation nightmare at the moment.

The primary role of those still working in Cork will be liaising with Ford’s Irish dealer network, but even that work may be reduced as our Cork source says that there’s a good chance that underperforming dealers will be wound down. Certainly, the dealer liaison team will shrink from five people today to probably just two in the future.

Globally, Ford is still feeling the pain of its $11 billion (€9.9 billion) restructuring. Net income in the third quarter fell, with concerns still rampant over Ford’s performance in the Chinese market, although the company still expects to make a $7 billion profit overall this year. European sales crept up in the same period, although Ford’s European operations still recorded a loss. Ford’s sales in Ireland are down 11 per cent for the year to date, and it has slipped to fourth in the sales charts, behind Hyundai, Toyota and Volkswagen while Skoda is nipping hard at its heels from fifth place.

Escorts and Cortinas on the production line in Cork during the 1980s.
Escorts and Cortinas on the production line in Cork during the 1980s.

For all this gloom, there is the faintest hint in the air that Ford may have at least started to turn its corner. Certainly, the buzz – most of it positive – surrounding reveal of the all-electric Mustang Mach-E crossover has made people feel a lot more positive about the Ford brand than they have for quite some time. Likewise, models such as the Bullitt Mustang and Ranger Raptor might be of niche interest in sales terms, but they are drawing in critical plaudits not – least on these pages.

Ford still has huge problems, unquestionably. Its withdrawal from the saloon and hatchback market in the US (in favour of an all-SUV line-up) has sent buyers not into Ford SUVs but instead into Toyota, Kia, Hyundai saloons and hatchbacks. It stumbled over the launch of the new Explorer SUV and desperately needs a proper European-market rival to the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and Hyundai Tucson.

Nevertheless, perhaps the best thing to happen to Ford this year has been the film, Le Mans ’66 (known globally as Ford v Ferrari). While senior Ford executives (notably Henry Ford II, Leo Beebe and Lee Iacocca) are lambasted and lampooned, the film – which has been a box-office success, earning almost $100 million in America alone – reminds cinema goers of a time when the Ford name, brand and vehicles could take on Ferrari. And win.

Despite numerous headwinds Ford faces now industry analysts are starting to look a little more kindly on the Blue Oval. Speaking to CNBC, David Leggett, automotive editor at data and analytics firm GlobalData, said Ford chief executive Jim Hackett “appears to be making the right strategic moves, but they will take time to bear fruit”.

It will, clearly, take a lot more than a Hollywood film and some strong reviews for the Ranger Raptor to turn Ford’s global fortunes around. But good product and a strong company image are critical pillars of any recovery, so at least it’s a start. That will be, of course, cold comfort to those working in Ford’s ancestral home of Cork.

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