Ford Motor Co. says it will cut up to 1,400 jobs at its Genk, Belgium, assembly plant. The cuts will be made as a result of Ford’s plan to transform Genk into a flexible manufacturing facility capable of producing four new models.

They include the next-generation Focus and Mondeo, as well as the Galaxy replacement. Ford will invest E900 million ($784 million) in the plant, which is expected to increase output from 300,000 units to 450,000 units annually by 2004.

The plant, which currently produces the Ford Transit van and Mondeo, has two distinct assembly processes for each product. Ford plans to reconfigure the plant to a single-line operation capable of building multiple products off the same line.

“Flexible manufacturing is a key part of our European transformation strategy,” says Ford of Europe Chairman and CEO David Thursfield. “Having facilities which have the flexibility to switch production quickly between models will enable us to be more responsive to changes in customer demand, while keeping our capacity fully utilized.”

Once the transformation is complete, Genk will be the final Ford European assembly plant to operate under the flexible manufacturing system. Ford already has the system in place at it Cologne, Germany, plant and is in the process of finalizing installation at its Valencia, Spain, and Saarlouis, Germany, plants. Ford, meanwhile, will move production of the Transit from Genk to its Otosan assembly plant in Turkey.

The company says the job reductions will be conducted mainly through voluntary means over the next two years. Eligible employees will be offered a comprehensive support program developed by both Ford and its unions.