FORD

The Covington News - - Lo­cal news -

that we may have to take a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to this par­tic­u­lar prob­lem,” Dou­glas said.

Two years ago Par­rish said Ford be­gan an ag­gres­sive cam­paign to re­struc­ture the com­pany, which in­cluded shut­ter­ing a num­ber of do­mes­tic plants, rene­go­ti­at­ing la­bor con­tracts and de­vel­op­ing a new line of fuel-ef­fi­cient ve­hi­cles.

How­ever the sum­mer oil price spike that lead to gaso­line prices of more than $ 4 a gal­lon, which greatly hurt the sale of SUVs and pickup trucks, and the au­tumn col­lapse of the fi­nan­cial mar­kets has halted Ford’s progress. Auto sales have not been this low for the in­dus­try in 25 years, he said.

Par­rish said he could not pre­dict whether the $ 34 bil­lion in auto loans would be enough to sus­tain the Big Three through the eco­nomic re­ces­sion.

“ It all de­pends on the length and the down­turn,” Par­rish said.

He at­trib­uted the fi­nan­cially weak po­si­tion of the do­mes­tic au­tomak­ers com­pared to the fi­nan­cial po­si­tion of their for­eign com­peti­tors as the re­sult of lower la­bor costs for Toy­ota, Honda and Nis­san but also to the grow­ing price of oil, an area that ad­van­tages more fuel-ef­fi­cient for­eign cars such as the Toy­ota Corolla and the Honda Ac­cord over the SUVs and pick­ups that are the spe­cialty of do­mes­tic au­tomak­ers.

“ Ear­lier this year when fuel pries spiked, those seg­ments where the im­ports are strong grew and the busi­ness mi­grated to im­ports just all by it­self due to fuel prices,” Par­rish said.

While the low gaso­line prices of re­cent months have re­sulted in some in­crease in the sale of SUVs and pick­ups, Par­rish said that Ford is not tak­ing the cur­rent low prices for granted and pre­dicts that prices will ul­ti­mately rise in the fu­ture.

“ We be­lieve that this is a short-term sit­u­a­tion and we have made the long-term de­ci­sion to build more fu­el­ef­fi­cient and small ve­hi­cles,” Par­rish said.

Par­rish rat­tled off sev­eral ex­am­ples of Ford’s ef­forts to im­prove the fuel ef­fi­ciency of its fleet nam­ing the 2009 Ford Es­cape, which was named best-in-class for fuel econ­omy over Honda and Toy­ota mod­els, the F-150, which also re­ceived a bestin-class rat­ing and the 2010 Fu­sion that will be launched in sev­eral months and beats Toy­ota Camry’s hy­brid by six miles per gal­lon.

“ We have made sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment not only in fu­el­ef­fi­cient ve­hi­cles, but also in elec­tric ve­hi­cles,” he said.

The Guardian Au­to­mo­tive plant was opened in Cov­ing­ton in 1969. The plant has gross sales of more than $ 50 mil­lion per year and its an­nual sales’ with Ford ex­ceed $ 19 mil­lion.

Ford has 128 sup­pli­ers across the state with $ 288 mil­lion in an­nual pro­duc­tion pur­chases. There are 127 Ford deal­er­ships in Ge­or­gia em­ploy­ing 5,280 peo­ple.

Loan pro­gram in the works

Bailout leg­is­la­tion for the Big Three au­tomak­ers is ex­pected to come to a vote this week, after House and Se­nate aides spent the week­end draft­ing the leg­is­la­tion.

A break­through on the long-stalled res­cue came Fri­day when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, yielded to Pres­i­dent Bush on a key point: al­low­ing the aid to be drawn from a fund set aside for the pro­duc­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tally friendlier cars.

Pelosi said the House would con­sider leg­is­la­tion in the up­com­ing week to pro­vide “ short-term and lim­ited as­sis­tance” to the U. S. auto in­dus­try while it un­der­goes “ ma­jor re­struc­tur­ing.”

Pelosi said Congress would in­sist that any leg­is­la­tion in­clude “ rig­or­ous and on­go­ing over­sight” to guar­an­tee that tax­payer funds are pro­tected and that re­sources “ are di­rected to en­sure the long-term vi­a­bil­ity and com­pet­i­tive­ness” of the auto in­dus­try.

The speaker, a close ally of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, had stead­fastly re­fused to tap an ex­ist­ing $ 25 bil­lion auto loan pro­gram — meant to fi­nance the pro­duc­tion of more fuel-ef­fi­cient ve­hi­cles — for emer­gency aid to the car­mak­ers.

But Bush re­fused to use money from the $ 700 bil­lion Wall Street bailout to help the Big Three. With time run­ning out on the cur­rent Congress and the au­tomak­ers' sit­u­a­tion in­creas­ingly dire, the win­dow for an agree­ment was quickly clos­ing.

Pelosi said the bil­lions of dol­lars set aside to mod­ern­ize plants and de­velop green cars would be re­paid “ within a mat­ter of weeks.” Democrats said her hope was to in­clude the funds in an eco­nomic re­cov­ery bill that law­mak­ers are ex­pected to pre­pare for Pres­i­dent-elect Barack Obama shortly after he takes of­fice Jan. 20.

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