Ford, 1903-2003: The European History

By Rubinstein, James | The Journal of Transport History, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Ford, 1903-2003: The European History


Rubinstein, James, The Journal of Transport History


Hubert Bonin, Yannick Lung and Steven Tolliday (eds), Ford, 1903-2003: The European History, Éditions P.L.A.G.E., Paris (2003), 2 Volumes, 1,241 pp., euro165.00

The Ford Motor Company is best known in transport history for its central role in revolutionizing the production and sale of motor vehicles in the first decades of the twentieth century. The company even lent its name, 'Fordism', to the revolution. Less well appreciated is Ford's pioneering role in international business. Ford began exporting cars to Europe within a year of its founding in 1903 and opened its first European factory in Manchester in 1911. As Mira Wilkins writes in her essay 'Ford Among Multinational Companies', in Volume 1 of this two volume opus, 'International business did not begin after World War II, as is often mistakenly assumed.' To mark the centennial of the Ford Motor Company, Ford of Europe provided a multinational research team with access to its archives, and financial support for a conference in November 2003 fittingly held in Bordeaux, site of Ford's second European assembly plant, opened in 1913. Also with Ford's cooperation and support, 29 essays on the history of Ford in Europe have been published in this 1,241 page collection. The 12 essays in Volume 1 concentrate on Ford as a major producer and seller of vehicles in Europe through the twentieth century. The first set of essays documents Ford's entrance, domination, and struggle for survival in Europe. The second set concentrates on distinctive features of Ford's European strategies in areas such as research, industrial relations, and retailing. Volume 2 provides case studies of Ford in individual countries of Europe, with most attention given to Britain and France.

Ford may not have been the only American enterprise to venture overseas after 1900, but it arrived in Europe with more confidence and swagger than other US companies. Ford's famous scripted name inside a blue oval was the most visible American symbol in Europe for much of the century. 'Whereas General Motors (GM) chose to hide behind the windshield of 'national marks', Opel and Vauxhall - and now also Saab -, Ford chose to stick to its brand name even in Europe and to entice consumers to remain faithful to its transatlantic personality,' writes Enrique de Miguel Fernandez in 'Ford in Valencia, 1970s2000' (Vol. 1). Moreover Ford rarely deviated from its American roots. Steven Tolliday quotes Henry Ford II proclaiming after World War II, 'this is an American company and it's going to be run from America' ('The Origins of Ford of Europe: From Multi-domestic to Transnational Corporation, 1903-1976', Vol. 1). Remarkably, Ford became known in Europe primarily as a British company and Ford was the best-selling car in Britain every year between 1972 and 2002. Ford products became deeply entrenched in British culture. The bestselling Ford Cortina provided the punchline in John Betjeman's 1974 poem The Executive, quoted by Tolliday in the essay The Rise of Ford in Britain: From Sales Agency to Market Leader, 1904-1980' (Vol.

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