PRODUCTION of the Southampton-built Ford Transit is surging back to near full capacity, according to company bosses.

Management have revealed that after a challenging 2010 they are now delighted with the tremendous performance of the Hampshire centre.

Ford of Britain commercial vehicle director Steve Clary said: “The plant is a tremendous success story and the quality is top class.”

Managing director Nigel Sharp said last year was a good year for the company with Transit sales up 26 per cent in a commercial vehicle market up 13 per cent but this year, with the company celebrating its centenary on March 8, is looking even better.

In a ‘state of the nation’ review of the motor industry, ahead of April’s first Commercial Vehicle Show for three years, he said: “This year, despite the VAT rise and fuel prices we can look forward with some confidence, with the pound recovering a little against the euro.

“In 2010 it was our 34th year leading the car market and 45th successive year leading commercial vehicle sales with Transit still the best-selling commercial, but there is some very good competition keen as mustard to chase us.

“In January commercial vehicle sales were up over 40 per cent, with medium commercials like Transit up 60 per cent.”

He said a lot of fleets and smaller operators had been putting off renewals but at last it was starting to return, the steep rise in fuel costs “attracting a magnifying glass to fuel economy”.

Mr Sharp said: “Southampton plant is putting in a tremendous performance with annual production up from 21,000 to 28,000 vehicles a year, with 55-57 per cent for export, so that the single shift is close to full capacity.”

Mr Clary said that the existing Transit vans and chassis cab units built in Southampton would be upgraded with a cleaner and more frugal Dagenham-built 2.2 litre Puma diesel engine later in the year – petrol engines are fitted in only one per cent of Transits now.

The hi-tech Puma unit, replacing three other engines, promises best-inclass CO2 emissions for Euro V regulation compliance and economy saving thousands of pounds.

He predicted that savings could range from £1,600 to £3,600 over 80,000 miles with new six-speed transmissions and service intervals of 50,000 miles or every two years.