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The Importance of Ford's Early Presence in Europe                by Emma Jackson*, Guest Writer

Ford is a quintessentially American company , but it has always had a presence in Europe, from the very first. This presence has not only helped the company to grow through gaining access to a larger market, but also contributed to the development of motoring technology. The US might have been the home of the classic Ford car, but Europe was an enticing market with a history of manufacturing and racing.

The Early European Motor Industry

Establishing a presence in Europe in the early 1900s was very important to Ford, since it created a foundation on which the company was able to grow through the rest of the century. It also gave Ford a place in the early European automotive industry. Competition from European manufacturers, and on the thriving European motor racing scene, helped to drive rapid technological development in the motor industry at this time. Much as motor sports continue to do today , well-publicized races helped promote successful manufacturers and drove them to invest more in building better and faster cars. Manufacturers wanted their cars to be seen winning races, and doing this on the winding roads of Europe required different skills and designs than the straight, open roads of the US. Events like the Gordon Bennett Cup races and the 1908 New York to Paris race were creating new demand for vehicles in Europe, as well as highlighting the growing rivalry between American and European manufacturers. Ford wanted to establish itself on both continents, but this meant catering to two different markets and dealing with these national rivalries.

Early Sales in Europe

The Ford Motor Company was incorporated in Detroit on June 16, 1903, and the first three Model As were imported into the UK that same year. Since the US factories were only producing a few vehicles a day at this time, before the faster working methods that Ford became famous for were invented, this marked some serious interest in cultivating the European market. These first Fords to reach Europe went on to appear at the Cordingley Automobile Show in Islington in March 1904. Their presence here proved to be very significant, since one of the attendees was Aubrey Blakiston, who was inspired to start selling Ford cars in the UK. He quickly put in an order for 12 cars from the US and leased a London showroom at the heart of the coach building and motor trade in Long Acre. It proved difficult to sell these first dozen cars. It took more than a year to find buyers for them all, but business would become brisker after a young car enthusiast called Percival Perry joined the sales team. By 1906, Perry had taken over the sales agency, and was busy selling the very popular, and competitively priced, Model N.

It was Perry who helped to establish the UK as the most important market for Ford in Europe, above France. The French motor industry had previously been seen as the biggest and most important in Europe. One of the first European Ford sales was to a French customer, and Paris received its own Ford Branch Company in 1908, before the UK. This was intended to be the headquarters for all European sales, under the supervision of American manager H. Baker White, whose salary was equivalent to $1.5 million in today's money.

The British branch of Ford was created one year later, in 1909, under Perry's management, and the first Ford dealership in the UK opened in Southampton in 1910. Perry's success in the UK convinced Ford to set up their first European factory in Manchester, in 1911, to take advantage of the growing market. British customers were at last able to buy Model Ts that had not had to be imported from across the pond, although many of the mechanical parts were at first still being brought ready-made to Manchester from the US. France did not get its own plant until 1913, when one was established in Bordeaux. This French plant was at first run by a local agent, before quickly being taken over by Ford itself.

Other markets in Europe were difficult for Ford to break into at this time. Germany, which had been at the forefront of the motor industry since the 1890s, was particularly difficult, and did not get its own Ford Branch until 1925. Russia, despite getting its first Ford sales agency in 1907, was also slow to take up the brand until it began selling tractors after the Revolution. Even in countries like the UK and France, sales were low compared to those in the US, particularly before manufacturing plants were established in the region, but the company's early presence in Europe did later develop into a profitable and important part of its business.

After 1910

Basing the first factory in the UK proved to be a success. By 1913, the Manchester plant managed to produce 6000 cars over the course of the year, enabling the Model T to become the most popular car in the UK, cornering 30% of the market. A moving assembly line was only established at the plant in 1914, producing 21 cars every hour, and enabling even greater expansion. By 1919, 40% of all cars in the UK were manufactured by Ford. From the 1920s onward, Ford increasingly opened up branches and manufacturing plants around the world, making the Model T the first global car, with nearly identical vehicles being sold in worldwide markets, occasionally with a few aesthetic tweaks to suit local tastes. Ford's factories were also inspiring European and global manufacturers with the faster processes introduced with the Model T in 1908, and this influence went far beyond the automotive industry.


1. The New York Times reports on New York to Paris the Hard Way, 100 Years Ago

2. The Henry Ford Museum's chronology of the Ford Motor Company

3. The Henry Ford Story from Ford UK

4. The rise of Ford in Britain: From sales agency to market leader, 1904-1980, archived article by University of Leeds' Steven Tolliday

5. History of Ford and Biography of Percival Perry from Grace's Guide

6. The German Tourist Board on the Home of the Car

7. The Independent on the Model T Ford: The car that changed our world

* Emma Jackson works as a freelance writer now, but prior to that she was in the finance sector, working for various big money corporations. The cut and thrust of the business world proved too challenging and after settling down to family life she found writing more pleasurable and this is how she spends her life now.
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