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US:Ford speeds up buyouts

Ford speeds up buyouts

Offers may extend to all U.S. plants

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

Buyout tally
As of Aug. 1, 5,660 workers at these Ford and former Visteon plants have accepted buyouts and left:
Ford vehicle plants
St. Louis Assembly Plant
Ohio (Avon Lake, Ohio) Assembly Plant*
Wixom Assembly Plant
Kansas City (Mo.) Assembly Plant
Kentucky Truck Plant
Louisville Assembly Plant
Ford parts plants
Woodhaven Stamping Plant
Cleveland Engine Plant
Lima (Ohio) Engine Plant
Dearborn Engine Plant
Vulcan Forge (Dearborn)
Edison, N.J., site (former plant)
ACH plants (formerly Visteon)
Chesterfield Plant, Chesterfield Twp.
Indianapolis Plant
Kansas City (Mo.) Plant
Milan Plant
Monroe Plant
Nashville (Tenn.) Glass Plant
Saline Plant
Sandusky (Ohio) Plant
Sheldon Road Plant, Plymouth
Tulsa (Okla.) Glass Plant
Utica Plant, Shelby Twp.
Ypsilanti Plant
* includes now-closed Lorain, Ohio, plant
Source: Ford

DEARBORN -- Ford Motor Co. is weighing a major expansion of its attrition program for hourly workers and could extend buyout or early retirement offers to all of its blue-collar employees in the United States, sources familiar with the proposal said Monday.

That would address a chief concern of Wall Street analysts, who say Ford's original plan to cut 25,000 to 30,000 factory jobs by 2012 is not aggressive enough.

News that Ford is exploring an accelerated attrition program prompted some analysts to boost their ratings of the struggling automaker, but others remain skeptical of Ford's turnaround effort.

Ford sources said the company has not made a final decision on how far to extend the buyouts.

"We've had ongoing discussions with the union about these buyouts and where they'll take place," said Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans.

The United Auto Workers would not comment on those discussions.

"It appears to us that Ford is positioning itself operationally toward offering deeper buyouts," said Wall Street analyst Peter Nesvold, who follows Ford for Bear Stearns. "We believe management has been reluctant in the past to offer aggressive UAW buyouts partly from concerns that the take rate would be too high, leaving too few workers on the line."

Ford has 87,000 hourly workers in North America. As The Detroit News reported last month, Ford expects up to 11,000 workers to take advantage of its current buyout program by the end of the year and estimates between 22,000 and 24,000 hourly jobs will be eliminated in North America by the end of 2007 through buyouts and normal attrition.

That would bring the company close to its goal of cutting up to 30,000 factory jobs by 2012, but many analysts still think Ford is moving too slowly. They are much more excited by General Motors Corp.'s companywide buyout program that has eliminated some 34,000 jobs since April.

Ford is offering buyouts at select plants where there are more workers than product demand. The company wants to avoid understaffing that might disrupt production or hurt quality.

Buyouts won't cross borders

Ford officials said they would only release details of the new attrition program as part of a broader restructuring announcement due in mid-September.

But Ford sources did say any buyout offers will not extend to workers in Canada or Mexico, contradicting published reports.

Ford factory workers have been wondering whether the buyouts would be expanded to mirror GM's program.

"They have been asking ever since the first buyout was announced," said Rocky Comito, president of UAW Local 862 in Louisville, Ky. "But I have not heard a word, not from Ford anyway. Just a lot of speculation."

Canadian Auto Workers officials said Ford has not discussed across-the-board buyouts. Last week, however, Ford told the union the Windsor engine plant will move from three shifts to two in October. About 300 workers will be laid off. Another 50 will be laid off at Windsor's Essex engine plant, said Bob Chernicki, assistant to CAW President Buzz Hargrove.

"We are worried about the plant and we are worried about Ford," he said.

Those moves are part of Ford's push to match manufacturing with demand -- an effort that prompted Ford to say Friday it will slash fourth-quarter output by 21 percent, the biggest production cut in three decades.

Workers brace for layoffs

Workers around the country are being notified of temporary layoffs in the wake of that move. Union officials at Ford's Kansas City Assembly Plant were told their truck lines will be down for five weeks. Ford's Norfolk Assembly Plant, scheduled to close in mid-2008, will shut down for nine weeks between Sept. 11 and Dec. 22, according to production schedules sent to employees Monday.

The production cuts and the buyouts are part of Ford's struggle to accelerate its restructuring plan, announced in January. The company is also expected to cut more salaried positions and benefits.

"To paraphrase the company's latest tag line, Ford's restructuring moves are getting bolder," said Bear Stearns' Nesvold. "Cutting production and salaried jobs would address some symptoms, but not the ailment. However, we think management increasingly is demonstrating a greater sense of urgency than it did in January."

But not everyone on Wall Street is pleased.

"A more aggressive restructuring plan, including new attrition plans, could save Ford $3.5 (billion) to $4.5 billion per year, but revenue and product mix remain concerns," said Jon Rogers of Citigroup.

Robert Barry of Goldman Sachs said Ford has no clear path to recovery.

"(It) has been doing what companies do that lose sales -- it has been reducing head count and closing plants … and we have no doubt the plan's revised version … will turn up the volume on head count cuts and facility closing even further, because sales seem to be falling off even faster. (But) Ford remains a business in secular decline."

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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