Ford has confirmed plans to close its engine plant at Bridgend in South Wales by September 2020, saying it faced becoming “economically unsustainable” in the world’s drive for electric vehicles.
The company ruled out a Brexit link after it made the formal announcement, saying that consultations on its proposals had begun with its 1,700 staff and their representatives.
Unions accused the firm of betraying the workforce and wider supply chain while Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price urged the company to reconsider.
Stuart Rowley, president of Ford Europe, told reporters: “This action has nothing to do with Brexit and the simple way to think of that is, if Brexit had never happened, would there be a different decision, and the answer to that is no.”
He explained: “Creating a strong and sustainable Ford business in Europe requires us to make some difficult decisions, including the need to scale our global engine manufacturing footprint to best serve our future vehicle portfolio.
“We are committed to the UK; however, changing customer demand and cost disadvantages, plus an absence of additional engine models for Bridgend going forward make the plant economically unsustainable in the years ahead.”
“As a major employer in the UK for more than a century, we know that closing Bridgend would be difficult for many of our employees.
“We recognise the effects it would have on their families and the communities where they live and, as a responsible employer, we are proposing a plan that would help to ease the impact.”
The company said its proposals would see production of the latest 1.5 litre engine end in February – ahead of the closure later in the year – and insisted its other UK engine plant remained a “core” part of its UK business.
It estimated a one-off charge of £650m to complete the Bridgend shutdown.
The factory, which opened over 40 years ago, has faced a series of recent cutbacks as orders dried up amid the growing backlash against petrol and diesel engines in favour of electric vehicles.
Sky News revealed in February that a voluntary redundancy programme would result in 400 job losses – with 600 further posts at Bridgend under threat as Ford moved to cut costs and boost profitability.
It announced just weeks ago that 550 jobs at its Dunton technical centre were to go as part of 7,000 job losses worldwide.
The industry is grappling not only with the environmental challenge but also vying to win the race for self-driving technology at a time of tougher conditions for the world economy.
The US-China trade war has been blamed for depressing demand for new vehicles in key markets.
The company told Sky News earlier this year it would have to carefully consider its British business in the event of a no-deal Brexit and confirmed that remained the case, despite a commitment to its current UK operations on Thursday.
The UK car industry has been one of the most vocal opponents of a so-called messy divorce from the EU, saying it is imperative that the flow of goods is maintained and that products remain tariff-free.
Ford is the latest firm to cut back in the UK as the Brexit issue remains unresolved and the sector looks for savings to invest in the future.
Honda is to cease production at its Swindon plant by 2021 with the loss of 3,500 jobs, while Jaguar Land Rover is cutting 4,500 roles.
Nissan also announced it had cancelled plans to build its new X-Trail in Sunderland.
The Unite union’s general secretary Len McCluskey reacted angrily by saying it would fight the Bridgend closure “with all our might”.
He said: “These workers and this community have stayed faithful to Ford, as have UK customers – this is still Ford’s largest European market – through thick and thin, but have been treated disgracefully in return by this company.
“Ford broke promise after promise to the UK. First, it was that it would build 500,000 engines at Bridgend. That fell to a quarter of a million, then fell again and again to now just 80,000.
“The company has deliberately run down its UK operations so that now not a single Ford vehicle – car or van – is made in the UK.”