Ford to sell area plant

MARGARETTA TWP. Ford Motor Co. announced Tuesday that it has made a tentative agreement to sell the
May 24, 2010



Ford Motor Co. announced Tuesday that it has made a tentative agreement to sell the local Automotive Components Holding plant to Meridian Automotive Systems.

"It's an agreement to proceed to the next level of negotiations," said Della DiPietro, director of public affairs and government relations for ACH, formerly Visteon.

The agreement is nonbinding and does not mean the plant is sold. It includes the plant, the business and the Bellevue facility, she said.

"It's a framework for a sale," DiPietro said.

The deal is contingent upon reaching a new and long-term competitive bargaining agreement with the United Auto Workers.

Representatives from UAW Local 1216 could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

ACH, which is managed by Ford, had been looking for buyers for the plant since October 2005 and had expected to move the air induction line and the carbon canister production line -- both powertrain components -- out of the plant in the next few years. The plant primarily produces automotive lighting, which includes front, rear and signal lights for nearly 60 percent of the company's North American production.

"I'm glad it (will be) sold and it's going to stay open," said Rick Ritter of Berlin Heights. "I was afraid it would close."

Ritter, a temporary worker at ACH, said if the deal goes through, he plans to "stick it out" to see what benefits the company will offer.

But many workers were wary of the possible acquisition Tuesday.

A federal court Web site lists 19 bankruptcy cases filed under various names involving Meridian Automotive Systems since May 2000.

Dan Rodgers of Sandusky said he wasn't sure how to react in light of the announcement.

"We never know what's going on," Rodgers said. "It's never fun (not knowing.) It's nice to know there is hope."

Gabe Vasquez of Lorain said he is not happy for the union workers.

"For the community, I'm glad it's staying open," he said. "For Ford workers, I don't think it's a good idea."

Unless the pay and benefits stay the same, Vasquez said he doesn't believe the acquisition will be beneficial for union workers.

"This has been coming for a long time," said Vasquez, who has been with the company for 12 years.

Ken Lowery of Sandusky said he plans to retire early or accept flowback positions that may be available at other Ford facilities.

"Even if Meridian buys it, (the plant) is not going to be here," he said. "They're going to outsource everything."

Michael Blake of Sandusky said he was discouraged by the news.

Blake has worked at the plant since 1978 and said he would find a job elsewhere if ACH is sold.

"I need to stay with Ford," Blake said.

Meridian officials said the plant location will give the company "a competitive advantage."

"Acquiring the ... facility is a logical extension of our engineering and manufacturing expertise in lighting and thermoplastic injection molding," said Meridian President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Newsted in a press release. "We are excited about the opportunity to improve the long-term competitive position of this operation and expanding our strengths and capabilities in lighting technology."

In a letter to employees, ACH Sandusky Plant Manager Doug Cellier wrote that the agreement with Meridian is "great news."

"We have worked hard, but there is much more to do if we are to build a strong business case for this sale," he wrote. "The next steps involve complex negotiations about land, buildings, environment, financial issues and economics including a competitive agreement with the UAW. We have come a long way in a short time and this is yet another example of what we can achieve when we work together toward a common goal."

At one time, all ACH facilities in the United States were expected to sell or close by the end of 2008. The group offered its employees a buyout last year.

"We will work as aggressively as possible toward an agreement and sale," DiPietro said.

Worker retention and new job positions will be discussed during negotiations.

"We would anticipate that (Meridian) would have great interest in the individuals who are successfully running the business and the plant," she said. "Both ACH and Meridian are looking to have a final agreement as soon as possible."

About 1,000 hourly employees work at the plant.

A price for the business and plant have yet to be determined.

Visteon, which was Ford's parts-making arm, was spun off from Ford as an independent company in June 2000, taking with it 70,000 employees from more than 200 facilities.

The supplier lost $188 million in the first quarter of 2005 and Ford officials announced plans to help Visteon sell or make more efficient 24 Visteon plants and facilities, including the Margaretta plant and a Bellevue facility. Those facilities were moved into the Ford-owned holding company, Automotive Components Holdings.

Automotive Components Holdings took over the Margaretta plant and its workers at the end of September in 2005.

Ford has sold one plant in Mexico and the ACH plant is one of eight plants the company has agreements to divest.

According to its Web site, Meridian, based in Allen Park, Mich., is a leading supplier of technologically advanced front and rear end modules, exterior thermoplastics and composites, lighting and interior systems to automobile and truck manufacturers and to the consumer and industrial products market. The company operates 21 primary facilities in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Brazil.