The Ford Motor Company (FMC) was founded in Detroit in 1903 and began shortly thereafter exporting cars to European branches. Cross-border assembly started in Canada in 1904 and was later implemented in the European markets. The first European plant was established in 1911 in England, and this was followed with other lower volume assembly plants across the European continent. All the plants and branches assembled and sold the Model T, using American methods and practices. This proved to be a success in the beginning, but in the long run, “(…) this proved a costly and unsuccessful strategy in Europe’s diverse markets” (Bonin et al., p. 15). By the late 1920s most of its European subsidiaries were struggling and Ford had to change his approach to the European market.
In the interwar years, FMC twice changed course in Europe. In 1928 it introduced a plan for regional integration. This plan started with the creation of a giant new plant at Dagenham in England. The Dagenham plants main focus was support and supply of materials to other European plants in order to limit the need for American export of goods, and instead integrate the European Ford plants in manufacturing, supply, and ease the trade across European borders. Using the Dagenham plant as headquarters for European operations proved extremely difficult. This was due to the tariff barriers within Europe and the pressure from countries insisting to keep Ford manufacturing locally if it wished to sell in their national markets. “The result was a retreat from planned regional integration to fragmented and nationally oriented markets” (Bonin et al., p. 16). These changes in course also affected the approach Ford made towards its production practices, and for the first time, a measure of national differentiation was implemented.
During the Second World War (WWII), the communication between the Ford American Parent Company (FAPC) and its European subsidiaries were disconnected. “The leadership of German Ford took advantage of the conflict to pursue integration of Ford’s European operation under its own direction” (Bonin et al., p. 16). This disconnect with Ford Europe during the WWII was felt after the war ended. Ford had to rebuild his company and reorganize its production and manufacturing to support its new domestic and foreign markets after a period of decline and limited control of operations.
The German market was by 1903 already familiar with the auto industry and had by 1886 experienced the first motorcar in Germany (v2, p 151). The German market was adaptable to foreign investors because of its high industrial sphere and its ability to attract skilled labor and low wages. This combination of skilled labor and low wages did not align well with Henry Ford’s ideas of mass production through mass consumption. Europe was a class society in the beginning of the 20th century and thus acted and looked very different from the emerging middle class in the United States and the mass...