ThyssenKrupp Budd Co. closes historic east side factory, idles 350 workers.
Bryce G. Hoffman - The Detroit News - May 16, 2006
David Guralnick / The Detroit News
DETROIT - Eighty-seven years ago, the fledgling Liberty Motor Car Co. built a grand new headquarters and factory on Detroit's east side - an exact replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia down to the elegant clock tower.
Liberty Motor Car didn't survive, but the stately facility remained in operation through all the peaks and valleys of the auto industry.
On Monday, though, German automotive supplier ThyssenKrupp Budd Co. announced it was shutting down the historic factory that employs 350 workers, citing declining sales of Ford Motor Co.'s large sport utility vehicles.
The plant produces metal stampings and a variety of parts, including liftgates and body side panels, primarily for the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. Sales of both full-size SUVs have declined sharply in the face of rising gasoline prices.
"It's no secret that the SUV business particularly has been off," said Tom McDonald, vice president of public and government affairs for ThyssenKrupp. "We don't have enough business to support the ongoing operations of the plant."
McDonald said the factory's business will most likely be consolidated at the company's factory in Shelbyville, Ky.
That decision is pending negotiations with the United Auto Workers union, which represents workers at both plants.
"It's not about labor costs," McDonald said, "it's just facility utilization."
Workers at the Detroit plant are represented by the UAW Local 306. Union leaders did not return calls for comment, but the company said labor and management are working on a plan to phase out production at the facility, starting within a few weeks and wrapping up by the end of the year. McDonald said most of the workers at the plant are longtime employees who are eligible for retirement.
Jim Gillette, director of supplier analysis with CSM Worldwide in Grand Rapids, said ThyssenKrupp has been taking a hard look at all of its facilities nationwide to determine how to use its resources best. However, he said Monday's move appears to be a direct response to Ford's declining SUV sales.
The company still will have a presence in Michigan, with a factory in Fowlerville that specializes in chassis modules and offices in Auburn Hills.
But the Detroit factory, on the corner of Charlevoix and Connor, appears to have reached the end of the line.
The Budd Co., an automotive supplier, bought the plant from Liberty Motor Car in 1925 and used it to manufacture car components. It was converted to war production in the 1940s. After World War II, the plant returned to auto work.
It was there that the bodies for the original 1955 Ford Thunderbird were produced.
"We have no plans for the building," McDonald said. "We certainly would like to consider any options."
ThyssenKrupp Budd Co. is a U.S. division of ThyssenKrupp AG.
You can reach Bryce Hoffman at (313) 222-2443 or firstname.lastname@example.org