Faced with stiff competition, overcapacity and a changing European market, Dutch housewares molder Curver BV plans to shut down a major production facility at Amiens, France, by early next year. Curver of Heerlen, Netherlands, a subsidiary of Dutch chemicals and materials group DSM NV, still is involved in closure talks with the 250-strong work force, French trade unions and local authorities.
But the firm has indicated there is a chance that part or all of the plant could yet be saved through some form of outside buyout.
A DSM spokesman would neither confirm nor deny that Curver had received offers for the operation.
``The unions would prefer any other solution to keep at least some production there. But we don't know whether that is possible or not,'' said spokesman Arthur Spierts.
Curver has 30 plastics molding machines, mainly injection presses, at Amiens, where it produces branded household articles using both polyethylene and poly-propylene.
The decision to close the French plant — one of Curver's two biggest — was taken in view of the site's poor prospects when compared with its other units. The company has a similar-sized plant at Brunssun, Netherlands, as well as smaller units in Spain, Hungary and the United Kingdom.
The closure is part of a major restructuring program under way at Curver, which also has shut down its small German production facility. Spierts said Curver needed to boost its efficiency and the Amiens capacity cutback should be sufficient to improve the firm's position.
Explaining the program, Spierts said market development in Europe had not proved as good as had been predicted five years ago.
While consumers still bought capital goods like cars, he claims they have opted for lower-quality housewares rather than top-grade products made by firms such as Curver.
Although the Brunssun plant has a similar number of injection presses, he said the machines in the Dutch facility are about 10 years old, which are younger than those at Amiens. Curver needs to renew about half the older machines in France, but fresh investment in the face of its overcapacity is pointless, Spierts said.
Until 1994, Curver shared a joint venture with Rubbermaid Inc. of Wooster, Ohio. But the two companies could not agree on strategic decisions, and Rubbermaid sold its interest in Curver Rubbermaid Group to DSM.
Curver, which employs a total of 1,500, has annual sales of 450 million Dutch florin (US$770 million). Curver also makes garden furniture and masterbatches.