SALINE, MICH. — Everything about Faurecia SA's interior trim plant in Saline is big.
The former Ford and Visteon plant here once made instrument panels for every Ford vehicle built in North America. The plant, which opened in 1966, has 1.6 million square feet of floor space — big enough to accommodate 27 football fields.
When Faurecia bought the plant in 2012, 9 miles of conveyors snaked around the building. Boxes holding thousands of parts were stacked toward the ceiling. In short, the Saline plant was an industrial relic.
But incoming boss Mike Heneka also knew it generated $1.1 billion in annual sales. As president of Faurecia North America Inc., Heneka had the job of converting the castoff plant into a profitable operation.
The challenge would be daunting. Dozens of component plants once owned by Ford Motor Co. and General Motors have shut down over the past 15 years or so, unable to compete with the lower wages and more efficient production practices of independent suppliers.
But Saline now has three key ingredients for survival: an owner, Faurecia, with deep pockets; a loyal customer, Ford; and a pragmatic union.
Heneka is first to acknowledge that the turnaround is still a work in progress. Faurecia has introduced a variety of lean manufacturing practices at Saline, which makes instrument panels, door panels, cockpits and center consoles for Ford.
But potential customers such as General Motors and Fiat Chrysler have adopted a wait-and-see stance to see whether Faurecia's turnaround plan will bear fruit.
Saline was part of Visteon's production network when Ford spun off Visteon, its in-house parts operation, in 2000. Hobbled by high labor costs and a disjointed product portfolio, Visteon returned Saline and 16 other factories to Ford in 2005.
Faurecia acquired Saline, which was still operating, in 2012.
The factory "was an antiquated plant," Heneka recalls. "I remember thinking 'Oh my goodness, what have we done?'"
In recent years, there was no money to clear out machinery when Saline stopped making a particular part. As a result, the floor was littered with presses, assembly lines and equipment no longer in use.
"You had these monoliths sitting all over the place like the Statue of Liberty," said Raymond Boufford, vice president of Faurecia's Ford customer division in North America and Faurecia's lead negotiator in the Saline deal. "When we moved in, it was total chaos."