CAR giant Ford could axe hundreds of jobs in a major cost-cutting exercise, with workers at two major Essex bases likely to be at risk.

The group has announced it is launching a voluntary redundancy programme in a bid to slash costs across “all areas” of its European business.

Ford operates a major research and development centre in Dunton, while its British headquarters are in Warley, near Brentwood.

Its European business made a profit in 2015 for the first time in four years, but the company says it needs to save £138million per year due to increasing regulatory costs.

Jim Farley, chairman of Ford Europe, said: “We are creating a far more lean and efficient business that can deliver healthy returns and earn future investment.

"Our job is to make our vehicles as efficiently as possible, spending every dollar in a way that serves customers' needs and desires, and creating a truly sustainable, customer-focused business."

Ford employs 53,000 staff in Europe, with about 13,000 in the UK.

It is believed about 5,000 people work at Dunton Technical Centre.

The company’s last programme of redundancies in Europe took place in 2012, when it axed about 1,000 jobs.

During that process, about 275 workers at Dunton and Warley lost their jobs.

Mr Farley said the recent return to profit was a "good first step", with Ford Europe last month posting a £179 million surplus for 2015.

But he added the group is "taking the necessary actions to create a vibrant business that's solidly profitable in both good times and down cycles".

While Ford still makes parts in the UK, it no longer manufactures cars in Britain after closing several production lines over the past four years.