We don't usually talk about Ford Motor Company in this magazine unless it's in connection with one of its European acquisitions, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover or Volvo. But, since Ford celebrated 100 years in business on June 16, 2003, we thought it might be appropriate to look back at Ford in Europe and at Ford of Europe Inc., the umbrella organization created more than 35 years ago to manage the company's European businesses.
Ford has had a presence in Europe since its first year in business, 1903. Two new Fords were shown at the motor show in London in March 1904, and shortly thereafter a sales agency was set up in London. Proprietor Aubrey Blakiston ordered 12 of Henry's first Model As. Ford historians note that it took an entire calendar year to sell those first 12 cars.
The next major market to see Ford enter was France, by a factor of two the largest country in western Europe and home to Peugeot, Renault, DeDion and dozens of other homegrown brands. Ford went into business there in 1908, with an American manager.
By 1906, Ford Model Ns were selling like free beer in England, and franchise operator Percival Perry was making a name for himself. Three years later, Ford opened its first satellite company outside the U.S., in England, and in 1911 built its first factory outside the U.S., near Manchester. By 1913, Ford was also building cars in France, near Bordeaux.
During the Great War, Perry was seconded to the British government to run its agricultural mechanization ministry, and afterward Perry convinced Henry Ford that tractors could be as good a business as cars. So in 1919, Ford opened a Fordson tractor plant in Ireland near his family's ancestral hometown of Cork. The company stayed in the tractor business for 80 years.
By this time, Ford had been producing the Model T for 10 years in the U.S., and Henry Ford's master plan was to sell that same car, with minor changes, all over the world. So he needed European manufacturing capacity, and he found it, first in Copenhagen, in 1919, then in Cadiz, Spain. A huge plant in Trieste, Italy, was added in 1922. The original French plant in Bordeaux was supplanted by a new one outside Paris in Asnieres in 1925. Ford of Germany, which would play an enormous part in company history, was opened in 1925 in Berlin, and others quickly followed: Belgium, Netherlands, Turkey, Romania, Sweden, Finland, Portugal and Greece. Russia built Fords, too, but they were the Fordson tractors, not cars.
By 1927, the Model T had run its course, after nearly 16 million units had been produced at plants all over the world. Henry Ford decided that all of the European companies should be administered by a new company set up for that purpose in England, Ford Motor Company Limited. A new plant complex, modeled after the famous Rouge facility in Dearborn, was set up on the banks of the Thames River east of London at Dagenham, and this was one of the twin hubs of Ford's European activities until it closed in 2001.
The Depression in 1929 altered Ford's business plan mightily. The troubles were compounded by the new Model A's unsuitability for Europe, with its giant 200 cu-in. (3.2-liter) four-cylinder engine subject to heavy taxation. So, the first Ford designed specially for European market conditions, the Model Y, with a tiny 993cc engine, was introduced in 1932. Built at plants in six different countries, the Model Y was a European staple for more than 35 years.