In 1923, Ford opened its doors in South Africa, a significant step just two decades after Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in the United States. This marked the beginning of what would become a centennial legacy of automotive innovation and industry leadership in South Africa.
The Model T and the Birth of South African Automotive Industry
The Ford Model T, a symbol of industrial revolution, first rolled out in America in 1908. With the introduction of the groundbreaking assembly line in 1913, Ford revolutionized car manufacturing, drastically reducing the time it took to build a car. Recognizing the growing global demand, Ford expanded its operations, leading to the establishment of Ford Canada, which played a crucial role in supplying vehicles to British Commonwealth nations, including South Africa.
In November 1923, the Ford Motor Company of South Africa was established, initially as a subsidiary of Ford Canada. The choice of Port Elizabeth for its location was strategic, utilizing the region's extensive sea, road, and rail networks. This plant, converted from an old wool store, was not just Ford's 16th factory outside the USA but also Africa's first-ever assembly line.
Growth and Expansion: From Assembly Line to Industry Leader
The journey from assembling the Model T to becoming a major player in South Africa's automotive industry is a story of growth and expansion. By 1925, there were over 18,000 licensed Ford vehicles on South African roads. The company's commitment to the nation was further solidified during World War II, where Ford shifted its focus to support the Allied campaign, producing vehicles for the Union Defence Force and assisting with repairs for the South African Air Force.
From the creation of the iconic Anglia, Capri, Consul, Escort, and more, to the establishment of a dedicated engine manufacturing facility in Struandale in 1963, Ford's history is dotted with innovations and milestones. The company celebrated the creation of its 1-millionth vehicle in 1976, a testament to its growing influence in the automotive industry.
Navigating Challenges: The Sanctions Era and Beyond
The 1980s brought new challenges with sanctions impacting exports. Ford's response was to focus on creating unique models for the local market, including the Cortina XR6 and Sierra XR8. The company reached its 2-million car milestone in 1993 and began production of the Ford Fiesta in Silverton in 1997.
In recent times, Ford has shifted its focus towards the light-commercial sector, with the Ranger bakkie becoming its mainstay. The Ranger's engines, produced at Struandale, are a testament to the company's continued commitment to innovation and quality.
As Ford celebrates 100 years in South Africa, it's not just about reflecting on past achievements but also about looking forward to the future. With its significant investments and a commitment to delivering quality and innovation, Ford continues to play an integral role in shaping South Africa's automotive landscape.
This story is not just about a company's success; it's about resilience, innovation, and a deep connection with South Africa's history and its people. As we celebrate this centennial milestone, we look forward to seeing what the next century holds for Ford in South Africa.