Ford South Africa Celebrates a Century of Driving Excellence

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Ford South Africa Celebrates a Century of Driving Excellence

In a world transformed by technology and innovation, it's difficult to imagine life a century ago without the modern conveniences we now take for granted. One such innovation, the automobile, has played a pivotal role in shaping the last 100 years of South Africa's history, and at the heart of this transformation stands Ford.

Ford's Pioneering Beginnings

In the same year the Wright brothers achieved their historic powered flight, intrepid engineer Henry Ford and his investors founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903. Their venture, launched with a humble capital of $28,000, laid the foundation for a revolutionary industry.

Recognizing South Africa's significance in the company's global ambitions, Henry Ford appointed Arkell & Douglas in Port Elizabeth as the company's local agents for the distribution and sale of Ford cars. This strategic move in 1905 marked the beginning of Ford's enduring legacy in South Africa.

While earlier Ford models set the wheels in motion, it was the Model T, launched in 1908, that led to the company's meteoric rise. By the end of the 1920s, Ford was producing a staggering 9,000 vehicles per day in Detroit, thanks to innovations like the moving assembly line that significantly reduced production time.

Ford's Arrival in South Africa

To meet the soaring demand for the Model T, Ford expanded its operations globally. In November 1923, Ford Motor Company of South Africa was established in Port Elizabeth, a city strategically chosen for its excellent transportation links.

Local assembly operations began in January 1924, utilizing completely knocked-down kits imported from Canada. The first locally produced Ford models hit the market in March the same year. Affordability remained key to Ford's success, with vehicles available from as low as £145.

By the end of 1925, there were 18,118 licensed Fords on South African roads, almost three times more than its closest competitor. Ford's presence continued to grow, with the plant producing a combined total of 2,069 cars and 1,093 trucks in 1926.

Driving Through Adversity and Innovation

During World War II, Ford's South African plant played a significant role in supporting the Allied campaign, producing almost 60,000 vehicles between 1939 and 1945. Post-war production resumed, and in 1947, Ford embarked on building a new factory in Neave Industrial Township, setting new records with its sheer size and a massive window that spanned 354 meters.

The 1960s marked significant investments, including the establishment of the Struandale Engine Plant, which became the first facility in South Africa to manufacture engines locally for passenger cars and trucks. This pioneering spirit led to the creation of legendary cars like the Cortina XR6 and Sierra XR8.

Adapting and Thriving

As the political landscape changed in the 1980s, Ford entered negotiations that eventually led to the formation of the South African Motor Corporation (SAMCOR) in 1985. Ford's vehicle assembly operations were consolidated at the SAMCOR plant in Silverton, east of Pretoria, and the Struandale Engine Plant remained in Port Elizabeth.

Despite international sanctions during the Apartheid era, Ford's local engineers devised innovative solutions to maintain the appeal and competitiveness of their models. This innovative spirit led to the creation of legendary cars like the Cortina XR6 and Sierra XR8.

In 1994, Ford acquired a 45-percent equity stake in SAMCOR from Anglo American, marking a pivotal moment of confidence in South Africa's transition to democracy.

A Century of Ford Excellence

The year 2000 saw Ford acquire 100-percent equity in SAMCOR, establishing the Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa (FMCSA). This period also introduced the first-generation Ranger, a model that would redefine Ford's presence in the light commercial vehicle segment.

Ford's investment in South Africa continued with a R3.4-billion initiative in 2010, expanding production capacity and introducing new technologies, including the creation of the Tshwane Automotive Special Economic Zone.

In 2021, Ford invested R16.8-billion to modernize and expand its Silverton operations for the Next-Gen Ranger, enhancing vehicle quality and sustainability. In 2022, the Silverton Assembly Plant embraced solar energy, installing one of the world's largest solar PV carport systems.

As Ford builds up to its Centenary celebrations, it reflects on a rich history filled with iconic nameplates, industry-firsts, and a legacy defined by its people, dealers, customers, and communities. The future holds even more exciting chapters as Ford embarks on bold steps into its next century.

Ford South Africa's 100-year journey is a testament to innovation, resilience, and the spirit of driving forward, a legacy that continues to shape South Africa's automotive landscape. Happy 100th Anniversary, Ford South Africa!