DETROIT - Ford Motor Co. will streamline its four components divisions into a stand-alone General Motors Delphi-style operation. With 75,000 employees and annual sales of $14.3 billion, the new outfit - to be called the Automotive Products Operations - will be the world's second-largest automotive supplier.
The operation will absorb Ford Automotive Components Group, which includes plastics parts operations, as well as Ford's fuel-handling, glass and chassis divisions. Despite its huge size, Ford hopes to make the operation agile enough to respond quickly to market trends.
Ford's group may pursue joint opportunities overseas with GM's Delphi Automotive Systems.
``I am an entrepreneur,'' said Charles Szuluk, who will take charge Nov. 1. ``I am interested in growing this business.''
Szuluk, a former IBM executive who joined Ford in 1988, was named group vice president earlier this month. His job will be to maximize Ford's return on assets. That could mean expanding some portions of the business, selling unprofitable plants, or spinning off the entire operation into a fully independent company.
The new division also will have to compete with outside suppliers for Ford's business, forcing it to become more efficient.
``We want to expose the [parts] operation more nakedly to the winds of competition,'' said Ford Chairman Alex Trotman, during a news conference in early Octo-ber. ``We want to make them much more an arms-length supplier of components to Ford than they are today.''
The reorganization marks the early retirement of Frank Macher, 55, who runs the Automotive Components Group. Macher is retiring for personal reasons, a company spokesman said earlier this month.
If Ford's new parts division eventually is divested, the auto-maker's remaining production system would resemble Chrysler Corp. Ford would be left with core manufacturing operations: vehicle assembly, powertrains and body stamping. All noncore components would be purchased from outside suppliers.
However, Trotman said the streamlining does not include plans to lay off thousands of workers.
Observers already are comparing Ford's new operation to GM's Delphi Automotive Systems, which GM set up as a stand-alone entity in 1991. Like Ford, GM wanted Delphi to line up more outside customers, and to compete equally with other suppliers for GM business.
With sales of $26.4 billion last year, Delphi topped the Automotive News Top 50 Global OEM Suppliers list, leading Robert Bosch GmbH ($14.2 billion sales) and Ford's Automotive Products Operations. Automotive News is a sister publication of Plastics News.
Despite their rivalry, Ford and Delphi eventually could end up as partners. Last spring, executives from both companies confirmed they have discussed possible overseas business ventures - most likely in Asia. Those talks did not produce any firm deals, but both sides left the door open to future talks.
``I am hopeful we can find some areas of joint interest around the world to work together,'' said Delphi President J.T. Battenberg earlier this month. ``We have been having discussions, and I am hopeful this will accelerate.''
First, Szuluk will spend the next three to six months conducting a top-to-bottom evaluation of his new enterprise, and will decide whether to sell or keep Ford's glass division, which has struggled to compete with outside suppliers.
Earlier this year, Ford tried to sell its glass operation, but was blocked by the United Auto Workers union. Szuluk said Ford's new labor contract with the UAW gives him the flexibility to sell the glass operation, if necessary.
But he said he must win the union's cooperation. This week, Szuluk plans to meet UAW Vice President Ernie Lofton in a get-acquainted session.
Once Szuluk has evaluated his operations, he will try to raise component sales to non-Ford customers to 10 percent of his total sales, up from 5 percent today.
To do so, the former IBM executive is likely to focus on his electronics business, which has had some success selling components to outside customers. For example, Toyota is buying a Ford cruise control for a future model, and Honda has agreed to use Ford instrument clusters in its 1998 Accord.
Ford also is making a pitch to sell components to Renault, which is building an assembly plant in Brazil. With technical centers in Japan, Germany and England, Ford ACG is positioned to compete for more business in Europe and Asia.
Automotive News managing editor David Versical contributed to this report.