For those of us who still recall the sad day that the Ford/Mazda - Francisco Motors manufacturing partnership collapsed, there is perhaps a touch of déjà vu to the whole affair.
After the messy pull-out from their brief Francisco Motors partnership, Mazda’s brief fling with oblivion in the 90’s and the fallout of the Asian Financial crisis, the opening of the FMCP plant in 1999 seemed something of a miracle. Here was a new manufacturer investing heavily in the Philippines, building cars locally for… gasp… export.
With hundreds of millions of dollars sunk into the plant, Ford-Mazda then proceeded to build cars in earnest, starting with the venerable Ford Lynx and Ranger. These two cars showed a market weaned on Japanese imports that yes, Filipino workers could produce world-class vehicles, with the Lynx in particular winning a number of JD Powers Awards due to the excellent quality of assembly.
Following these two cars, Ford assembled models such as the Escape, Tribute, Mazda 3, and Focus. Further investment was made to assemble engines locally, including a truly state-of-the-art CNC machine for milling cylinder heads. From 2005 onwards, flex-fuel gasoline engines for the Focus line-up were assembled at the Santa Rosa plant.
Alas, market forces once again intervened, and talk of closing began circulating last year. The writing on the wall has been there for some time, though, with the Mazda Tribute and Mazda 3 successors being sourced from elsewhere, and all Fiestas being built at Thailand. Operations at the plant were throttled down, finally, to the Escape line-up. A product which will be discontinued after the last Escape leaves the plant in December of this year.
It’s a sad end for the Santa Rosa facility, which has exported over 80,000 vehicles over the past 13 years, and remains the sole high volume vehicle exporter in the country. Though it never ran to full capacity, being built to produce up to 36,000 units a year, the quality awards and the uninterrupted 8.3 million accident free hours of operation mean that our countrymen can hold their heads up proud for what they’ve done here. Perhaps the government’s drive to make the Philippines an Automotive Hub by 2020 will entice others to start manufacturing here. Perhaps even Ford-Mazda will come back. But 2020 cannot come soon enough to save the Santa Rosa plant. Ford assures us that they’re working out a generous compensation package for all its 250 workers, including post-work training, financial assistance, counseling and perhaps even work at other Ford facilities abroad. But life will surely never be the same for them.
Can we blame Ford for finally giving up, years after the Japanese did? Given the lack of economy of scale due to our piddling small local market, perhaps not. But with the American giant leaving, one wonders who the next torch bearer for the Philippine Automotive industry will be. Or whether we are doomed to forever exist as a niche market for the automotive majors?
Ford itself still remains committed to the Philippines, with its expansive and expanding sales and service network and a plethora of new model launches, but as I sit here, looking over my Philippine-made Ford Lynx, glistening in the glare of a single streetlight in all its faded scarlet glory, it saddens me that this colorful chapter in Philippine automotive history is coming to a close, and that someday, even these reminders of that time will be consigned to the scrapheap of history.