IAIN ROBERTSON 

Ford M

While Ford Motor Company is under fire again for closing its engine manufacturing plant in Swansea, writes Iain Robertson, its UK-based PR team wheeled out a couple of cars to demonstrate that ‘business goes on’ for the ‘Blue Oval’ brand.

Ford’s woes are myriad. Its present American boss believes that the firm’s future lies in pickups and SUVs. Its sales performance across Europe is disappointing, when compared with its market-leading statuses of the past…even though it is still the Number One brand in the UK. However, its position in our market is tenuous, not least since it ceased producing cars at Dagenham, Essex, and vans in Southampton. Its EV status is questionable, which means that it is missing a vital new car market trick. Where Ford once used to lead, it is now following, at some distance.

The company has been shedding staff worldwide and most recently admitted that it needs to dispense with the services of an additional 7,000 personnel, of which around 550 will come from the UK. The company has set an annual savings target of £471m, en-route to saving around £4.7bn by the end of next year…telephone number figures. Yet, for as long as it must endure the intense pains of a shrinking market, perhaps reflecting on its excessive spending plans and huge losses incurred between the late-1980s and early-2000s, it also knows that the show must go on.

Ford MIn fact, Ford brought both new and old favourite police cars to a services on the lower reaches of the M1 motorway to help celebrate 60 years of use on British main roads, coinciding with the late-1950s introduction of a motorway network. With the original stretch of the higher speed trunk road running through Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire, the three counties’ police forces determined that a ‘standard’ car should be employed to carry equipment, sometimes quickly. They picked a Farnham converted version of the then-popular Ford Zephyr, 2.5-litre, six-cylinder saloon, which was turned into a versatile estate car, and the Herts Police’s example now resides in Ford’s heritage collection, being the only remaining example in use.

While the Zephyr now feels like a Grand Old Dame, riding on its squishy suspension, squirming cross-ply tyres and wander-full steering system, it made great use of its straight-six petrol engine and ringing bell. It would be easy to believe that the venerable old Ford came standard with its gearbox noises, yowling rear differential and seemingly lethargic performance envelope but it was state of the art in the late-1950s, as ready to turn a hand to hounding the East End criminal fraternity, as chasing traffic offenders at speeds of up to 90mph on the new M1. However, as part of Ford’s historic collection, which is stored in an anonymous warehouse close to its former Dagenham HQ, it is maintained regularly and makes appearances, such as this one, as a vivid reminder of what the company once stood for.

Ford MForty years on, special services fleets (i.e. police, fire, ambulance and also support roles for the Armed Forces) are prioritising fuel efficiency and the Ford Mondeo large family estate now comes as a petrol-electric hybrid for the same price as the diesel only equivalent. It offers the driving range and freedom of a traditional combustion engine, in combination with the efficiency and refinement of an electric powertrain. The self-charging power unit, which has a 99g/km CO2 rating, eliminates both range anxiety and the need for essential users to have access to an external power source to recharge the battery.

The latest hybrid estate provides 403-litres of load capacity beneath the rear luggage cover, when the rear seats are erected as normal, but it can be extended up to 1,508-litres, should the rear seats be folded forwards, which is highly practical for the immense amount of gear, to which Police, Fire and even Ambulance services need access. The flat floor over the battery pack makes loading and unloading of large or bulky items easier, with additional storage below the load floor for smaller items, or when security might be an issue.

Ford MEven a brief drive between M1 junctions highlights that the Ford Mondeo hybrid pulls away silently, produces zero emissions, when running on electric power, and does not require plugging-in to recharge (the Zephyr was fun but significantly slower). Factor-in the estate’s extra space and this becomes the ideal motorway mile-muncher emergency fleets and private customers alike, just as the Zephyr model was in its day.

On hand for comments was Chris Smith, Highways England’s assistant safety coordinator for the East of England, and he outlined: “Cars have changed beyond recognition in the last 60 years, just as the motorways they drive on have too. Our first motorways had no speed limits, no safety barriers and many cars, which were not designed for motorway speeds, ended up on the hard shoulder.

Ford MToday’s motorways are packed with technology to help people on their journeys, with variable speed limits that help iron out stop-start traffic and signs and signals to warn drivers about changing conditions on the road ahead. On smart motorway sections, such as on the M1 between junctions 13 and 16, we’re making better use of the hard shoulder by making it available as an extra lane of traffic at peak times. However, we are also continuing to improve the motorway network to keep journeys smooth and safe for the millions of drivers who depend on them every day.”

Whether you believe him, or not, is immaterial. Every company and organisation has its ‘spokespeople’ and the fact that I find the lower reaches of the M1 to be among the least desirable stretches of road to drive on, in all of the UK, is beside the point. The Mondeo hybrid is a perfectly respectable car that I am sure will and does serve purpose but, even it is out-of-step with the rest of the industry, which is a good reason for us not spotting more of them, among an array of BMWs, Mitsubishi Shoguns and smatterings of Mercs.

Conclusion:      At one time synonymous with motorway patrols, it is nice to reminisce briefly with Ford at the 60th birthday of the M1 and its cars being drawn into use by early response teams from the police and other government departments.