Nothing defines a conventional car more than the engine under its hood. And nothing spells out the approaching disaster facing traditional automakers than having to close an engine manufacturing facility due to lack of demand for internal combustion engines.
That’s exactly what Ford is doing at its Bridgend engine factory in South Wales. One worker identified only as Stephen tells The Guardian, “The writing has been on the wall for a long time. We knew when the Sigma engine finished there was no replacement. We knew when the AJ engine finished there was no replacement. The predicted volumes for new Dragon engine were 250,000, then 125,000, then the last thing we had was for 70,000.”
The Bridgend factory built 20% of the engines in the Ford vehicles sold in the UK last year, including those in the Fiesta and B-Max, according to Automotive News. Production of the 1.5-liter gasoline engine will end in February while a contract to supply Jaguar Land Rover with engines ends in September of next year.
“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,” Ford Europe President Stuart Rowley said in a statement.
Predictably, local union officials are up in arms over the closure. “Ford broke promise after promise to the UK,” Unite Union general secretary Len McCluskey told Automotive News in an email. “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. We will resist this closure with all our might, and call upon the governments at the Welsh Assembly and Westminster to join us to save this plant,” McCluskey said.
Ford officials say Brexit had nothing to do with the decision to close Bridgend, but others are not so sure, pointing out that market uncertainties about the UK economy may have convinced others to delay or cancel plans to purchase engines from Ford.
While EV advocates may celebrate the closing of an engine plant the same way environmental activists celebrate the closure of a coal-fired generating facility, the effect on individual workers will be hard. Len Jones, who has worked at Bridgend for almost 8 years, tells The Guardian, “It’s devastating. Everyone’s got mortgages to pay and families to support. I expected a little more time to get things sorted. When we found out, everyone was just silent. They gave us letters and we just all went home. It’s hard to take in really, even though we expected it. Now it’s official, it’s a bad thing, really.”
The key to a successful transition to electric cars or renewable energy is to not place the burden of the coming changes on the shoulders of workers. Job retraining programs are critical to making both revolutions something ordinary people can support rather than oppose. Ford has said it will work to find new employment opportunities for laid off workers, but since the plant is the central industrial activity in that part of Wales, that means many will be faced with the prospect of selling their homes and relocating.
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