Ford Otosan, the successful automotive joint venture that draws its roots back to industrial pioneers Henry Ford and Vehbi Koc, marked its 50th anniversary today (28 June) with a celebration in Istanbul.

Over the past five decades, Ford Otosan has been an integral and profitable part of Ford’s (NYSE:F) international operations, most recently building successful vehicles such as the Transit, Transit Connect and Cargo commercial vehicles.

“The Koc family and the Ford family have a special relationship that goes back more than 80 years,” Ford chairman Bill Ford said. “Ford Otosan represents not only the proud heritage of our past, but the bright promise of our future. It will be exciting to watch that future unfold.”

Ford Otosan is a fully integrated operation, including sales and marketing, engineering, manufacturing and parts distribution. Ford and the Koc Group each hold a 41% stake in the joint venture with the remaining 18 percent held publicly on the Istanbul Stock Exchange. It employs 7,600 at its manufacturing operations in Kocaeli and Inonu, parts distribution in Kartal and engineering in Gebze.

“The foundation of what became Ford Otosan grew out of the drive and vision of Henry Ford, and Vehbi Koc,” said Rahmi Koc. “Their passion and commitment continues to drive the Ford Otosan business forward today. We’re proud that Turkish automotive industry started with [us].”

Otosan was founded in 1959 and, in 1977, the company signed a license agreement with then Ford chairman Henry Ford II and the company’s name was changed to Ford Otosan. Ford later increased its share of ownership to 30%, growing to 41% in 1997.

Ford Otosan was the first company to build a Turkish-engineered car in the country – the Anadol. It also was the first – and is still the only – Turkish auto company to export a vehicle to North America, the Transit Connect. Soon after the small van was launched in North America last year it won the 2010 North American Truck of the Year award.

Ford Otosan has been the top-selling auto company in the Turkish domestic market for the past eight years. Its products are exported from Turkey to more than 60 countries around the world, including markets in Europe, Central Asia, North Africa, the Middle East and North America. Ford Otosan produced 173,000 vehicles in 2009 with worldwide revenues of US$3.7bn.

Since the Kocaeli plant opened in 2001, Ford Otosan has become a key element in Ford’s commercial vehicle production strategy. The combined Kocaeli Plant and Inonu site produce a full range of light, medium and heavy duty commercial vehicles, including the Transit Connect, Transit and Cargo vehicles. In addition, the Puma Transit engine and Ecotorq Cargo engine, are produced at Inonu.

“Ford Otosan has an important role to play in Ford’s ongoing global commercial vehicle strategy, and is an integral part of our ONE Ford approach,” Ford Europe chairman Lewis Booth said. “It has a very bright future and we expect to fully leverage its production capacity in the years ahead.”

From the just-auto archive: Turkey’s Anadol – an unlikely story and a valuable history lesson