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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 18:56 GMT
Dagenham: End of the line
Car production line at Dagenham
Dagenham was Ford's largest car plant
Ford is bringing to an end 71 years of car production at its flagship UK plant, Dagenham in Essex, with the last Ford Fiesta rolling off the production line on Wednesday.

How important was Dagenham?
The Ford plant at Dagenham was one of the UK's largest car factories. It employed nearly 8,000 of the automobile company's 30,000 British workers. The car assembly line alone was manned by more than 4,500 people.

Where is the plant?
The complex, opened in 1931, occupies a 300-acre site on marshland north of the Thames in east London. Ford bought it in 1924 for 167,695.

Henry Ford
Henry Ford rolled into Dagenham in 1931

What did they make there?
Dagenham built the hugely successful Fiesta, using components sent from all over Europe. The first model rolled off the production line in 1977, with more than one million on the road by 1979.

The plant also produced Courier and Combi vans, as well as the Mazda 121, a slightly modified and rebadged Fiesta.

And before the Fiesta?
Dagenham was at the spearhead of Ford's attempts to corner the British car market.

The first vehicle it produced was a Model A 30cwt truck which rolled off the production line on 1 October 1931.

The factory also made the Model Y, the first four-seat saloon to sell for 100. After the war, Dagenham switched production from Bren Gun Carriers to V8 Pilots.

Ford Populars, Cortinas, Capris and Sierras have been among the more than 10 million cars made there.

Three million Cortinas were built at Dagenham between 1962-1981. But the Fiesta has been the only model built there since 1990.

Was Dagenham living on borrowed time?
Of all of Britain's car plants, it was once thought to have the most secure future, in what is an admittedly cut-throat industry.
Fiesta made at Dagenham
Fiesta production will move to Germany

Productivity at the complex was improved, with 62 cars being made per worker in 1997. However, a Dagenham-built Fiesta still spent six hours longer on the production line than one from Germany.

Is that why it is closing?
A key factor, according to industry sources, was that Dagenham did not have two production lines, unlike other European plants. It meant massive investment would have been necessary at Dagenham if it were to produce the new Fiesta.

Along with the fact that Ford's European operations have been hit by falling car sales and intense competition, the company took the decision in 2000 to move Fiesta production to Cologne in Germany.

Have there been other problems?
Workers were criticised for high levels of absenteeism. In 1997, around 100 workers failed to "clock in" for one particular shift.

However, supply problems have also contributed to stoppages. Shortages of engines, and even door locks, have seen production schedules missed.

So they made too few cars?
In 1997, Ford brought in extra shifts to keep up with demand and push output close to 200,000 cars per year. Months later it switched the plant to a four-day week.
Ford car on the production line
It took Dagenham workers 25 hours to build a Fiesta

Nearly half of Dagenham's cars are exported. Economic troubles in markets like Brazil and saturation in Europe left the factory with spare capacity.

At home, consumer concern over high car prices may also have contributed to Ford's woes.

Was there no warning that Dagenham might close?
Ford announced in 2000 that Fiesta production at Dagenham would end. The current model is not as profitable as it might be, with 3,000 components to assemble, compared to the 1,000 of the Ka.

Some 1,350 job losses were announced in 2000. Some Dagenham workers were said to have been keen to take this voluntary redundancy, thought to be around 50,000 each, perhaps fearing prolonged job insecurity.

But the company is creating 500 new jobs on the same site to bolster its diesel engine operation - the car maker's only high-volume diesel engine plant in the world.

What else is the plant famous for?
Dagenham has been no stranger to industrial strife. Walkouts and wildcat strikes halted production in the 1960s and 1970s. A month-long dispute closed the factory in 1969 and cost Ford 40m.
Ford workers outside plant
Dagenham workers have often taken strike action

In recent years the threat of strike action has hung over pay negotiations, resulting in two wildcat strikes.

The production line also stopped when it emerged that promotional material showing Dagenham workers had been doctored to remove black employees. The three-hour stoppage cost an estimated 2.8m.


Gallery
See also:

11 May 00 | Business
Ford: Dagenham to live 'forever'
24 Apr 00 | Business
Unions pledge fight for Ford
22 Apr 00 | Business
Ford 'to end production' at Dagenham
18 Feb 00 | Business
Ford slashes 1,500 UK jobs
04 Feb 00 | Business
Is Dagenham doomed?
05 Oct 99 | The Company File
Ford workers walkout
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