Jobs risk as Ford moves to sell Visteon

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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 in the wake of General Motors, which floated off its supplies division, Delphi Automotive Systems, earlier this year.

Industry observers believe 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 Kwikfit 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 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 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 major plants in Britain: Swansea employing 1,000; Enfield in north London employing 900, and Basildon, in Essex, and Belfast, each employing 600.

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