- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 7, 2005

DETROIT (AP) — Ford Motor Co.’s board of directors began a two-day meeting yesterday to consider a sweeping restructuring plan the company hopes will help pull it out of a slump.

Thousands of jobs are on the line and several plants may shut down to help the nation’s No. 2 automaker overcome rising costs and the loss of market share to foreign rivals.

Ford has at least eight assembly plants at significant risk of closure for many reasons, including the products they make, their age, their proximity to suppliers and the flexibility they have to produce a variety of products, according to auto analysts from consultants Global Insight Inc. and IRN Inc., and restructuring firm Conway, MacKenzie and Dunleavy. The plants employ more than 17,000 hourly and salaried workers.

Tom Hoyt, a spokesman for Ford, wouldn’t discuss details of the restructuring yesterday, saying the plan hasn’t been completed.

The automaker is expected to reveal the plan Jan. 23, according to United Auto Workers Vice President Gerald Bantom, who is in charge of negotiations with Ford. Mr. Bantom said he had no details of the plan, but industry analysts say Ford must take major steps to get its plant capacity in line with falling U.S. demand for its vehicles.

Ford used 86 percent of its North American assembly plant capacity in 2004 compared with rival Toyota Motor Corp., which is running at full capacity, according to the Harbour Report, which measures manufacturing productivity. Ford has 23 assembly plants in North America.

“This is not something that is going to be trivial. This has got to be substantial restructuring,” said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

At the top of the list for closure is the St. Louis plant, which makes the struggling Ford Explorer and the Mercury Mountaineer. Also high on the list are the Atlanta plant and the Twin Cities plant in St. Paul, Minn. Atlanta makes the Ford Taurus sedan, which is scheduled to be phased out next year, while the Twin Cities makes the slow-selling Ford Ranger pickup.

A plant in Cuautitlan, Mexico, which makes F-series trucks for the Mexican market, also is at risk, analysts said.

Two plants in Ontario, Canada — St. Thomas Assembly and Oakville Assembly — could be at risk because Ford will want to show the United Auto Workers that it is not confining cuts to U.S. plants, said Erich Merkle, a senior auto analyst with IRN.

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