Who would have thought, in the formative days, that Germany would eventually predominate in Ford's European structure and become home to its regional headquarters and a hub of design, engineering and manufacturing?
For the beginnings were inauspicious, even bizarre. The first German-registered Ford Motor Company was set up in 1925 by staff from Ford Denmark - itself barely six years old - in a rented warehouse alongside a canal in Berlin. Seconded from Copenhagen, the chief clerk who effectively ran the operation could read German, but could not speak the language.
Of Irish stock, and with World War I still an uncomfortably recent memory, Henry Ford had no particular inclination to favor the Fatherland. In fact, at the time, he saw England as the key to Europe. Initially Germany was a sideshow, even a gesture.
The rationale was obvious. Postwar Germany offered little consumer demand. Even so, Berlin assembly of the Model T commenced in 1926 in pursuit of the long-term plan for pan-European production of a single model and eventually of an integrated Ford of Europe. By the end of the first year 50 cars a day were emerging from the warehouse. In 1928 the Model A was also being assembled there, and total output had increased to 60 a day.
But demand was now quickening, and change was clearly needed. In 1929 a plan was drawn up for a new purpose-built plant in Cologne. Henry Ford ordered an increase in the stock capital of the German company from 5 million to 15 million Reichmarks, and despite the Wall Street Crash the previous October, a plot of 60 acres (24.3 hectares) at Cologne-Niehl was purchased.
As with other Ford enterprises outside the USA, the Cologne plant was not to be simply a branch of the American parent but an independent operation based on German capital, labor, materials and suppliers. On September 8, 1930, Henry Ford laid the foundation stone and declared that the goal was to build a bridge between two countries. Some 12 million Reichmarks and eight months later, the first Model A emerged.
Optimism was rewarded
Economic depression still prowled the region, however, and 1932 saw the German motor industry on the edge of ruin. Cologne production almost halted. The company's response was to switch production from Model A to Model B, and to design a new small car, the Köln. On the truck side the AA gave way to the BB 50hp model.
This optimism was rewarded, for 1933 produced market revival and government support for the auto industry, and Cologne built 4,956 cars. Crucially, these cars were now being modified to suit European needs in general and Germany in particular.
The following year the Cologne plant became the self-propelled manufacturing operation Henry Ford always envisaged, with 750 individual manufacturing machines.
By the outbreak of World War II, Ford had become Germany's second biggest truck manufacturer, third biggest carmaker, and third biggest exporter. In 1938, of the total 36,582 units produced by Cologne, 8,368 were sent to other markets. In 1939 the German company was renamed Ford-Werke AG.
Ford played a significant role in postwar reconstruction. In 1948 some 13,000 trucks were produced, and in October of that year passenger car production restarted with the Taunus Standard at a rate of three a day. In 1949 the more comfortable Taunus Special appeared, and 4,000 employees produced 17,377 vehicles.
The following year was the 25th anniversary of Ford manufacture in Germany, and the company had good cause for celebration. Output went ahead of target and almost reached 30,000. In a market with 70 domestic and foreign rivals, every eighth car registered in Germany was a Taunus.
New endeavours were put in place. The cornerstone for a project for 300 houses for Ford workers was laid. Erection of a new body and final assembly hall began. And production plans were afoot for new models including a 3.5-ton diesel truck, a rear-engine bus, and a series of Taunus derivatives, which would carry the company on into a prosperous new era.