Ford Motor Co. will close a Belgian factory employing more than 4,000 workers, shifting production to Spain as the US automaker scrambles to cut costs and stem European losses.
It was the third time this year that a mass-market carmaker has announced plans to close a plant in Europe as the region's debt crisis, government spending cuts and high unemployment hit consumer budgets and demand for new cars.
Ford said it would shut its Genk plant in eastern Belgium, with the loss of about 4,300 jobs by the end of 2014, transferring the work to a plant in Valencia...
Earlier this year, General Motors Co. unit Opel said it aimed to close its Bochum plant in Germany after 2016, while France's PSA Peugeot Citroen said in July it would shutter its Aulnay plant near Paris in 2014.
Ford's British unions were also braced for bad news, after management scheduled a meeting for Thursday and media reports said Ford could also close its Southampton plant where it makes Transit vans and employs just over 500 people.
Ford Europe Chairman Stephen Odell confirmed the meeting but declined to comment further.
Car sales in Europe accelerated their decline in September, shrinking at the fastest pace in the past 12 months. Carmakers have predicted the road to recovery in the region will be a long one, with some not expecting any let-up for two years.
"The outlook for the industry is not very positive for the foreseeable future," said Odell.
Union leader Luc Prenen said European-level managers did not attend the meeting in Genk, leaving local bosses to read a statement.
"After the announcement there were some rough scenes. There was some pushing and shoving but we managed to calm it down," said Prenen, the head of the ACV union. "It was aimed at the management but they left quickly. It was also among each other as people were very angry and frustrated."
Over the past several months, Ford executives have said the automaker's turnaround in North America, which centered on cutting capacity and offering a new, more attractive lineup, may serve as a blueprint for its restructuring in Europe.
From 2006 to 2009, Ford cut North American capacity by about 22 percent, Jefferies analyst Peter Nesvold said in a research note on Wednesday. He added that from 2006 to 2010, Ford also earned an additional $10 billion in revenue from higher vehicle prices.
But Europe's complex labor environment means Ford will focus heavily on its vehicle strategy early on, Nesvold said. By the end of 2013, Ford plans to update more than half the models it sells in the region.
Ford is likely to divulge its European restructuring plans in stages, rather than announce a sweeping overhaul as it did in North America six years ago, he said.
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