More than 60 potential buyers have expressed an interest in buying at least part of the 23 former Visteon Corp. facilities now in the hands of a Ford Motor Co. controlled holding company.
Automotive Components Holdings LLC took ownership of 17 manufacturing plants and seven research and testing operations from Visteon on Oct. 1. The facilities transferred back to Ford control under the terms of a bailout plan for Visteon.
Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford spun off its parts unit to create Visteon in 2000, but the Van Buren Township-based supplier has struggled financially almost from the start, saddled with high costs and a sagging auto industry.
Automotive Components Holdings is now running day-to-day operations for the 23 sites as well as getting them ready for sale.
Successful bidders will instantly establish themselves as a top North American producer of parts such as fuel tanks and instrument panels.
``Given our business conditions, we believe this is the best strategy to protect the flow of parts to Ford and, longer term, to address Ford's material costs by preparing most of these facilities for sale as efficient, high performing business units,'' said Al Ver, a Ford vice president and chief executive officer for ACH said in an Oct. 1 news release.
The holding company does not have any of its own employees in the United States. Instead, it is leasing 18,000 hourly workers from Ford and 5,000 workers from Visteon to maintain production.
Many of the operations up for sale will be major players in the auto supply business even as a stand-alone business.
ACH's blow molding operations in Milan, Mich., account for all of Visteon's $300 million blow molded fuel tank production - a business that made it the third largest plastic fuel tank maker in North America. But Milan also houses thermoforming lines for additional fuel tank production and injection molding of bumper fascia.
That combination could attract existing players like France's Plastic Omnium SA - an injection molder that also is a part owner in tank maker Inergy Automotive Systems - or an investment banking group anxious to make a splash in the industry.
``We could do a lot of speculating about it,'' said Joel Kopinsky, principal with the ITB Group Ltd., a Novi, Mich.-based auto consulting group. ``The fact is, a lot of people would be interested in buying if they can get it really cheap.
``There's a lot of questions being asked, and not a lot of answers.''
The switch leaves Visteon with one fuel tank making operation in North America - a thermoforming unit in Chesapeake, Va. The company has not responded to questions about whether it will retain fuel tanks as a product line in its leaner future.
``We still have much work to do, including significant additional restructuring actions over the next several years to achieve sustainable success in a highly competitive industry,'' said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mike Johnston in a Visteon news release.
Visteon executives have identified interiors and climate control and electronics - including lighting - as its core product lines moving forward, although some of the plants now moved over to ACH to produce parts used in those lines. The former Visteon facilities in Saline, Mich., and Utica, Mich., both turn out instrument panels and door panels. The Sandusky, Mich., site molds climate control products, Kopinsky noted.
``Some of those products may be going by the wayside, but there are some small components that could be jewels for the right people,'' he said.