Ford says potential investor in Saarlouis plant pulls out

By Victoria Waldersee

BERLIN (Reuters) -Talks between Ford and a potential investor in its plant in Saarlouis, Germany have fallen through, the carmaker said on Thursday, plunging workers back into uncertainty over the future of the site and their jobs.

A union representative expressed disappointment and anger at the news, saying talks with the company would continue on Monday on a collective bargaining agreement for workers who stood to lose their jobs.

“This will be expensive for Ford,” union representative Joerg Koehlinger said. “We will send a signal so that other companies will be afraid to flatten sites.”

Unions had said earlier this year they expected a solution by the end of the first quarter of 2023 and would not wait until 2024.

The setback comes as Ford is in the midst of negotiations with the United Auto Workers in the United States who are 21 days into a strike over labour conditions.

The potential investor for Saarlouis, who was never named, signed a non-binding agreement in June of this year but has now decided not to continue the negotiations, a spokesperson said in a statement.

The future of the site has been unclear since June 2022 when Ford picked a site in Spain to assemble its next-generation electric vehicle (EV) over the German plant, which will stop producing its current model, the Ford Focus, from 2025.

Fifteen possible investors had expressed interest, the works council said earlier in the year, with some media reporting that Chinese EV maker BYD was among them.

A union spokesperson said they were not aware of any other investor with whom talks had progressed.

The deal with the potential investor would have secured 2,500 of the currently around 4,500 jobs at the site, according to a Handelsblatt report on Thursday.

Ford will maintain 1,000 jobs in Saarlouis under an “alternative plan” that could also serve as a basis for a future technology centre at the site, Thursday’s statement said, without providing further details.

(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee, Friederike Heine; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Friederike Heine, Miranda Murray, Jan Harvey and Andrea Ricci)