Ford to sell parts business to single bidder

FORD MOTOR Company is planning the multi-billion pound sale of its global components subsidiary to a "preferred bidder", senior managers have disclosed.

The disposal of Visteon, which has 120 engineering centres in 21 countries employing 77,000 workers, is a major departure for the vehicle giant. Visteon is the third-largest components manufacturer in the world, with a turnover of $17.8bn. If Ford presses ahead with the sale, the company will be following the lead of General Motors, which floated off its supplies unit, Delphi Automotive Systems, earlier this year.

Industry observers believe that a sell-off would fit in with the company's strategy of shifting the emphasis of the business from traditional manufacturing to specialist assembly and consumer services. Ford recently acquired Kwik-Fit as part of its new approach.

News of the planned sale emerged at a meeting of Ford's European Works Council, which was held at the group's European headquarters in Cologne last week.

Sources at the meeting said that a senior Ford manager revealed the strategy and added that there was already a "preferred bidder", but refused to disclose its identity.

Management had decided that it was no longer an option to keep the company as a wholly owned subsidiary, the executive said.

The session was attended by employees' representatives from all over Europe, together with the United Auto Workers union of America.

After the revelation, an angry contingent of German workers strode out of the building and burnt a Visteon flag.

Professor Garel Rhys, of Cardiff Business School, University of Wales, said the sale of Visteon would unlock funds for Ford to develop its new strategy. He said: "It looks highly probable - if General Motors can do it, Ford can do it. The question now is whether a trade sell-off would be more lucrative than a flotation."

Union leaders are opposed to the strategy because of its implications for jobs in the United Kingdom. The company has four big plants in Britain: Swansea, employing 1,000; Enfield in north London, employing 900; Basildon, in Essex, and Belfast, in Northern Ireland, which each employ 600.

Ford UK refused to comment on what a spokesman described as speculation.