February 19, 2019 / 6:47 PM / in a month

Ford to close oldest Brazil plant, exit South America truck biz

SAO PAULO/DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co said on Tuesday it will close its oldest factory in Brazil and exit its heavy commercial truck business in South America, a move that could cost more than 2,700 jobs as part of a restructuring meant to end losses around the world.

FILE PHOTO: New Ford trucks are seen at a parking lot of the Ford factory in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, February 12, 2015. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/File Photo

Ford previously said the global reorganization, to impact thousands of jobs and possible plant closures in Europe, would result in $11 billion in charges.

Following that announcement, analysts and investors had expected a similar restructuring in South America. Ford Chief Executive Jim Hackett said last month that investors would not have to wait long for the South American reorganization plan.

The factory slated for closure is in Sao Bernardo do Campo, an industrial suburb of Sao Paulo that has operated since 1967. It first produced a number of auto models before being switched predominantly to trucks in 2001. It makes the F-4000 and F-350 trucks, as well as the Fiesta small car, a sales laggard.

The factory closure may mean Ford is refocusing on the core of its car business in Latin America’s largest economy, based in a much newer factory in the northeastern state of Bahia. But the job cuts in Brazil’s industrial heartland represent a psychological blow for the new administration of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, which is battling an unemployment rate above 11 percent.

Ford’s latest cuts come as investors watch for signs of progress on the company’s alliance with Volkswagen AG, which already encompasses commercial vans and pickup trucks but may soon expand into electric and self-driving cars. The two automakers have also pledged to work together on other projects, which could include combining capacity in regions like South America.

Ford shares closed up 3.4 percent at $8.83 in New York.

“You can’t cost cut your way to prosperity in the long term,” said David Kudla, who heads Michigan-based Mainstay Capital Management, a firm that previously owned Ford stock. “We want to hear about the future, what you’re doing for mobility services and autonomous vehicles.”

The closure is also a blow to the industrial outskirts of Sao Paulo, where Brazil’s automotive industry was born and which long drove its industrial growth. It is also where imprisoned former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva came to fame as a union leader who organized massive strikes that helped harken the end of the military dictatorship.

The union in Sao Bernardo did not have an immediate comment. But Sao Bernardo Mayor Orlando Morando complained angrily that Ford gave no warning and failed to discuss the closure with the workers.

“The 2,800 families directly affected and another 2,000 indirectly affected deserved a chance to react. This is an act of cowardice,” Morando’s office said in a statement.

A Ford spokesman declined to provide a precise figure for job cuts but acknowledged there would be “a significant impact” and said the automaker would work with unions and other affected parties on “next steps.”

Ford South America President Lyle Watters said on Tuesday the automaker remains “committed” to South America, a region where it is not currently profitable.

SLOW GROWTH

Sales of Ford cars and light trucks grew by 10 percent between 2017 and 2018 in Brazil, lagging a 15 percent post-recession increase for the industry as a whole.

In the trucks business, it ranked fourth, with sales less than half those of Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen.

FILE PHOTO: The Ford logo is pictured on the company's stand during the 88th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Ford said in October it would stop building its Focus compact cars in Argentina in May 2019 as part of efforts to end its losses in the region.

Kleiton Da Silva, an employee and union representative in Ford’s surviving Bahia plant, said the carmaker was in talks to cut 650 of its workforce there, which the automaker has said totals 4,604.

The No. 2 U.S. automaker expects to record pre-tax special charges of about $460 million, with most of that recorded this year, it said in the statement.

Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit and Marcelo Rochabrun and Alberto Alerigi in Sao Paulo; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Dan Grebler and Bill Berkrot

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