Confirming a longstanding rumor, Ford has announced that it will close its Genk, Belgium, factory in early 2014. The plant employs 4,300 workers, more than any of Ford's United States factories, but once subcontractors are factored in roughly 10,000 jobs will disappear from the province of Limburg.
Many analysts see the plant closure as inevitable. Ford is on track to lose more than $1 billion in Europe this year, where slow sales and profit-robbing factory underutilization are still the norm due to the region’s debt crisis. The American automaker's European factories are currently running at about 52 percent of maximum capacity so closing Genk is billed as a necessary evil that will enable Ford to better utilize its remaining facilities.
“The proposed restructuring of our European manufacturing operations is a fundamental part of our plan to strengthen Ford’s business in Europe and to return to profitable growth,” said Stephen Odell, the chairman and CEO of Ford of Europe.
Still, the decision to shut down Genk is a tough blow, especially since the factory's employees bitterly accepted wage cuts two years ago to help the automaker get through tough financial times. In Belgium, political and union leaders were both quick to criticize Ford's decision.
"It's unfair, Ford workers gave everything they had to the factory and in return they get a simple letter of apology from the firm's American headquarters," said Ingrid Lieten, a minister in Belgium's Flemish government, in an interview with Radio Télévision Belge Francophone (RTBF).
The Genk plant will continue to build the Mondeo sedan, the S-Max and the Galaxy MPVs until they are phased out in late 2013 or early 2014. Rumors indicate the new Fusion-based Mondeo will be built in Valencia, Spain, but Ford has yet to confirm that.