In the aftermath of the closure of the Ford plant in Cork, the company was keen to send a message to motorists across the country: We haven’t gone away, you know.
Indeed, Cork city remained the Irish headquarters of the motor giant, with a nod to the ancestral links of Henry Ford — and is the only major motor company to have its base outside Dublin.
The offices in Boreenmanna Road are just a hurl of a sliotar away from where the old Marina plant used to stand, and customer and brand loyalty to Ford has remained strong in Cork.
The late 1980’s remained a tough economic period, but as the 1990s progressed, Ireland began to recover its industrial confidence and consumers started to spend again.
The Sierra, which was assembled in Cork in the final years of the Marina plant, was withdrawn in 1993, after 11 years in production. But that just paved the way for a new fleet of Ford success stories.
The Mondeo, launched in 1992 as a mid-to-large family car, was named European Car of the Year in 1994.
Meanwhile, the compact Focus was launched in 1998 and named European Car of the Year in 1999 in a landslide, garnering the votes of two-thirds of the jury made up of 56 specialist motoring writers from 21 countries.
Greeting the accolade, Ford Ireland Chairman and Managing Director Eddie Nolan said the Focus “brings to life all that is good and genuine about our company and it will form the bedrock of our hopes and aspirations for the next century.”
Read more: The end of the Ford production line was the end of an era for Cork
A few days later, the Focus racked up a dream double by also being named Irish Car of the Year, with styling, price, and technical factors all cited as exceptional.
It was a hectic decade for new launches, with the Ka and Galaxy models introduced in 1996.
Meanwhile, Ford Motor Company sought to expand its empire and, in 1999, acquired Volvo Cars in a £4billion deal, which lifted it from sixth to second in the league table of the world’s largest motoring companies.
William Clay Ford Jr, the great-grandson of company founder Henry, had just taken over as chairman of the company and announced boldly: “Our 21st century vision is to become the world’s leading consumer company that provides automative products and services.”
The then 41-year-old added: “I want to serve this company at the very best of my ability. The Ford Motor Company is my heritage, and has always been part of my life.”
His ambition to be world leader was squarely aimed at Ford’s big rival, General Motors, which had been the world’s largest automobile manufacturer for several decades at that point.
A few months later, when Ford acquired vehicle servicing and repair chain Kwik-Fit for €1billion, the company had a portfolio that also included Aston Martin, Jaguar, Lincoln, Mazda, Mercury and rental car chain Hertz. However, a decision by Ford to concentrate on its core business led to the sale of Kwik Fit in 2002.
It was an era of big companies swallowing up smaller ones, as the motoring industry sought to address issues on the horizon concerning over-capacity and intense pricing pressures, as well as environmental issues which were nearing the top of many countries’ political agendas.
Ford had placed itself in a position, on the cusp of a new century, where it could absorb the shock of a global economic downturn better than its rivals, and perhaps take on General Motors’ long-time role as the world’s largest motor company.