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Bosch to Reduce Work Force as Autos Slide

(Greenville News) Robert Bosch LLC has offered voluntary severance packages to about 1,300 employees at its auto parts plant in Anderson County, the plant’s entire work force, as it seeks to reduce head count amid a sharp downturn in the industry.

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The German conglomerate did the same thing at its 2,100-worker plant in Charleston earlier this month.

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Becky MacDonald, a spokeswoman at Bosch’s North American headquarters in Farmington Hills, Mich., said Dec. 17 that she didn’t have any information about how many jobs her company aims to cut out of the South Carolina plants.

"Our plan at this point is to offer the voluntary severance program, and then we’re going to look at what our customer demand is and go forward from there," she said.

At the BMW plant in Greer, meanwhile, Friday could be the last day of work for up to 733 contract workers.

Randall W. Hatcher, president of Management Analysis and Utilization Inc., the Augusta, Ga., company that supplied the contract workers, said employees laid off at the BMW plant will be paid through December under the previously announced cost-cutting plan.

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Auto industry jobs are also being lost in Blythewood and Columbia, where Continental AG announced this week the closing of an auto parts plant and engineering facility that together employ 440, The State reported.

Michelin North America Inc., a major supplier of tires to the auto industry, hasn’t announced any major layoffs in South Carolina. The Greenville-based manufacturer has cut production and extended normal shutdowns at plants in Greenville, Spartanburg and Lexington.

Across the country, manufacturers of vehicles and their parts have cut 145,000 jobs over the past year, about 15% of the total, said Raymond Sauer, an economics professor at Clemson University.

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"The auto industry is contracting almost violently," he said. "It’s a common feature of recessions for consumers to cut back on purchases of durable goods like automobiles. But the latest sales figures really jump out at you."

U.S. sales of passenger cars and light trucks plunged almost 37% in November, compared to the same month in 2007, according to Autodata Corp. For the first 11 months of 2008, sales were off 16.3%.

For BMW of North America, sales dropped 26.7% in November, compared to the year-earlier period. BMW’s U.S. sales were off 6.8% for the first 11 months of 2008, according to Autodata.

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Craig Homan, president of Easley Custom Plastics in Easley, said he laid off 28 contract workers after recent declines in orders for interior parts for cars made by BMW in Greer and Hyundai in Montgomery, Ala.

Orders declined about 15% for the BMW parts and about 25% for the Hyundai parts during the fourth quarter, Homan said. His company, however, has other work making casings for Makita and Stanley power tools and has kept 204 workers on its own payroll.

"Right now, we think we can maintain this level, but we are doing contingency plans to shorten work weeks if necessary," Homan said.

The auto industry’s plight now extends beyond the Big Three U.S. automakers and their desperate pleas in Washington for billions of dollars in emergency aid.

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German and Japanese automakers with plants in the Southeast have announced production cuts, and Monday Toyota Motor Corp. said it would delay indefinitely the startup of plant under construction near Tupelo, Miss. (Tire Review/Akron)

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