On a day (25 October) the UK government announced some positive growth in the recession-hit economy, Ford is widely expected to announce the closure of its Transit chassis cab-producing plant in the UK port of Southampton later.

Should the plant – employing over 500 workers – face the axe – it would be the second major closure announced by this week Ford following its decision to shut its Genk plant in Belgium with the loss of 4,300 jobs.

According to Ford’s website, Southampton was opened in 1953 and the 1.3m sq ft plant occupies a 52-acre site. Current employment is 534.

It is the last Ford plant assembling vehicles in the United Kingdom – Halewood, opened in 1964, is now Tata Motors’ Land Rover plant and Dagenham, dating back to the 1930s, stopped making Fiestas in 2001 but remains home to a diesel engine joint venture with PSA Peugeot-Citroen. A truck-building operation at Langley, west of London, latterly operated by Iveco, closed years ago as did a satellite KD kit assembly operation in the Irish republic which ceased Cortina manufacture in the early 1980s.

“We will be issuing a statement today after [labour] body representatives have their meeting,” a spokesman for major Ford union, Unite, told just-auto.”

Local politicians have expressed dismay at the news, but the overall UK automotive climate remains relatively benign compared to most of the rest of Europe, which is facing catastrophic sales drops as economic woes take their toll.

In contrast, British Prime Minister, David Cameron is expected to announce the UK has emerged from consecutive quarters of negative growth to post a positive result later today.

Ford confined itself to noting to just-auto: “We will be putting out a release [at] about 14:00 (GMT).

Earlier this year, analysts said Ford was under pressure to close at least one factory in Europe, where it may have more excess capacity than General Motors (which is widely expected soon to announce the closure of at least one European plant – most likely Bochum in Germany).

Industry watchers said then Ford’s assembly plants in Southampton, England, and Genk, Belgium, could be vulnerable.

The Ford commercial vehicle factory in Southampton, which now only produces chassis cabs for the outgoing ‘old Transit, built fewer than 30,000 vehicles last year, using less than one-third of its capacity, according to IHS Automotive. That plant, with 550 workers, could be under threat, the analysts said at the time.

They also noted at the time that the now-doomed Genk plant “could” also be vulnerable. The factory built 178,000 vehicles last year, about 68% of its capacity, according to Ford data.

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