Bad news for Saarland: The US car manufacturer Ford has decided against a groundbreaking investment package for its plant in Saarlouis, Saarland. Instead, an electric car platform – also called “architecture” – is to be built in Valencia, Spain, as the group announced on Wednesday. The company said it was “the best positioned plant” there to produce vehicles based on an electric architecture.
The decision hits the 4,600 Ford employees in Saarland hard. Because car production at the site is only secured until 2025, then production of the combustion model Ford Focus will be phased out. The workforce had hoped that, thanks to investments in electrical equipment, most of the jobs would be safe afterwards. The management’s decision now destroys this hope.
Markus Thal, Chairman of the Works Council at the Saarlouis site, was deeply shocked and angry: “We were lied to, cheated and taken for a ride. We were allowed to run against the wall for three years,” he told the German Press Agency in Saarbrücken.
In a first statement, the works councils spoke of a “set up game” and a “sham procedure”. You fought and gave everything, was the clear winner in the bidding competition and are now being robbed of your success.
The chairman of the general works council in Germany, Benjamin Gruschka, described Ford’s decision as a “complete failure of the European headquarters”. According to the works councils, the location decision was evident from the start.
The only possible reason why a laborious bidding process was forced on the employee representatives in Spain and Germany was the intention to “extort further concessions from the employees in Valencia, although working conditions in Spain have already deteriorated massively in the last 15 years “.
After the fundamental decision of the management, restructuring is now pending in Valencia. The investment sum and the specific car model will be determined at a later date – there may also be several models.
The future looks bleak in Saarlouis. There is a risk of closure or sale, said Gruschka works council with a view to the end of Focus production in 2025. The possible consequences would be “devastating” for Saarlouis, Saarland and the Saar-Lor-Lux European region.
Ford Europe boss Stuart Rowley told the dpa that the decision in favor of Spain was not a decision to close the Saarlouis location. “We are now trying to find ways to give as many affected employees as possible a future.” In technical and strategic terms, the two locations were on par, but in financial terms Valencia had an advantage.
When asked whether Saarlouis still had a future in the Ford Group after 2025, Rowley said that a task force would now be set up and how to proceed with the employee representatives and the Saarland state government would be discussed. Look at opportunities that lie inside and outside of Ford. He wasn’t more specific.
The works council no longer believes in corresponding offers from Ford. “These are tranquilizers, we’ve had enough of them,” said employee representative Thal of the dpa. “You can take them all with you and introduce them to others.” Now you have to see what legal options there are within the framework of the collective agreement.
Ford is in transition. In the age of electromobility, the US automaker initially lagged behind its competitors and seemed to have ignored the signs of the times. In the meantime, however, Ford is investing heavily in electromobility in order to be able to compete in the future.
The European headquarters in Cologne plays a major role in the Americans’ plans. The group wants to invest a total of two billion US dollars there in the coming years and manufacture electric cars, with production scheduled to start at the end of 2023.
Ford has around 15,000 employees in the cathedral city. There, the planned Stromer are based on the electric platform from VW. Ford wants to install its own platform in Valencia in order to build further electric models. It is unclear when the first Ford Stromers will roll off the assembly line there – “later in the decade”, it says vaguely.
Industry experts had expected the decision not to locate the new platform in Saarlouis. Personnel costs are lower in Spain than in Germany, says Stefan Bratzel from the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach.
Some time ago, Ford decided to invest billions in Cologne, where labor costs are also relatively high. However, the location there is much larger and also has numerous suppliers in its vicinity.
Bratzel has little hope for the continued existence of the Ford plant in Saarlouis. It is possible that the Focus production will be extended by another year or two, but that would only delay the end. In order for Saarlouis to be involved in electric production after all, Ford would have to experience a boom in sales of electric vehicles in the coming years. “But that is absolutely not in sight – in terms of quantity, the locations where investments have been made so far should be sufficient.”