Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Ford set to take over Batavia plant

Announcement expected today about ownership

By Mike Boyer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Officials of Ford Motor Co. and ZF Group are expected to announce today that Ford is increasing its ownership in the ZF Batavia transmission plant in Clermont County.

A media briefing is slated for this afternoon at the plant to discuss the status of the joint venture formed in 1999 when German auto parts maker ZF acquired 51 percent of the plant. Ford, which opened the 1.8-million-square-foot plant in 1980, retained 49 percent.

A spokesman for Ford declined to comment on what would be announced. Last week, spokesmen for Ford and ZF confirmed that the partners were negotiating a change in control for the plant, which employs 1,400.

That followed German press reports that ZF, part of ZF Friedrichshafen AG, wanted to sell its stake in the joint venture.

The plant is rolling out a new, more efficient type of transmission called a CVT, or continuously variable transmission.

Unlike traditional transmissions, which use gears to transmit engine power to wheel axles, CVTs use belts or chains that ride on cone-shaped discs to drive the axles.

Ford and ZF, whose North American headquarters is in Florence, invested an estimated $750 million in new tooling to make the CVTs on the east side of the Batavia plant.

The other side of the plant continues to make four-speed automatic transmissions for the Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute.

Officials originally envisioned the Batavia plant producing more than a million CVTs annually, about four times its four-speed automatic production, for Ford and other carmakers.

The Batavia plant began shipping smaller CVTs last fall to Europe for Ford's German-built Focus. Later this year, the plant will supply larger CVTs for Ford's new Five Hundred sedan and Freestyle crossover vehicle.


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