The End of an Era: Ford Stops Vehicle Production in the UK

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Wherever you go, the odds are you won’t have to look far to find one. So what makes a Ford Transit quite so special to Southampton?

The Transit Van is in many ways a British Institution. For almost half a century, British designed and built vans have been rolling off production lines and straight onto our roads, ferrying everything from kitchen sinks to vital organs, and are an integral part of many businesses and organisations in the UK and around the world .

Made from parts more typically intended for passenger cars than larger lorries, the Transit van showed, and continues to today, the fact that just because you can fit a small flat in the back doesn’t mean it had to drive like one.

Cheap ride home or heist carrying speed machine?
Cheap ride home or heist carrying speed machine?

Their general popularity and all round ability can be demonstrated by one statistic: in the 1970s,  British police estimated that 95 percent of all robberies using vans involved a Ford Transit. Clearly, if you ever require a getaway vehicle in a hurry, the keys for the safety bus are all you need.

For almost all of that time, these vans have been manufactured in Southampton, in a large factory just south of the Airport and north of Wessex Lane halls. Through eight generations, Ford has been a huge employer in the area, and contributes enormously to the local economy. Tomorrow, however, the production lines will stop rolling and the factory doors will close for the last time.

This isn’t an obituary for the Transit Van itself. Sales of Transits are as strong as ever, and it would be a very foolish choice to cut a brand that is now synonymous with the ‘White Van Man’ of Britain. However, production of a new global model, rather than one specifically for Europe, has resulted in all Transit production being relocated to Turkey, causing 500 job losses in the area as well as a knock on effect for suppliers and hauliers moving the new vans.

The factory on Wide Lane
The factory on Wide Lane

To the Student community, this loss will mean almost nothing. Transit Van drivers won’t notice the difference either, with machines producing identical vans no matter where they are located. But for the local area, with many staff being relocated to Ford sites away from Southampton, the loss will be noticeable.

Some workers have been kept on at the 44 acre site in order to refurbish used cars and assist with preparing finished new Fords for sale, but it is a far cry from the factory’s original glory, once considered so important that the M27 motorway was routed around the site in order to prevent dividing it, resulting today in a pronounced kink in the road around junction five.

One of Southampton's well known faces has aged well
One of Southampton’s best known faces has aged well.

Cynics have previously claimed that little of use or value could come out of Southampton. Such a ridiculous claim could never possibly be true, but the loss of an icon is a sad day for Britain’s manufacturing sector, and an important reminder of Southampton’s successful and industrial past.

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