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Ford exec says its area plant <br> has role in some key products <br> Plant benefits from <br> proximity to Ontario <br> assembly plants

Ford Motor Co.'s Woodlawn stamping plant is supplying parts for some of the company's most-watched new products, thanks in part to cooperation between management and unionized workers, a Ford executive said Monday.

The plant makes stamped parts to the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX, which are just arriving in showrooms. It will also make stamped parts for a full-size "crossover" vehicle, based on its Ford Fairlane concept, that will begin production in 2008, said Paul Kosaian, director of operations for Ford's stamping business unit.

Kosaian, who spoke to the Buffalo Niagara Partnership's Manufacturing Council, said "competitive operating agreements" approved by unionized workers at Ford plants such as Woodlawn's earlier this year allowed for changes in work practices that enable the factories to compete more effectively.

"It will not be an end point," Kosaian said of the union agreements. "It will be a state of mind, because the competition is going to keep moving. And we have to keep moving with it."

The changes allow Ford to carry out more production with fewer workers. The Woodlawn plant has about 1,400 workers, including salaried personnel. But due to a broad buyout program, the size of the Woodlawn work force could fall below 1,000.

Kosaian said the Woodlawn plant, one of seven Ford stamping plants in North America, benefits from its proximity to Ontario assembly plants in Oakville and St. Thomas. The Oakville plant, which has undergone a $1 billion upgrade, makes the Edge and MKX and will build the Fairlane-based vehicle. The St. Thomas site assembles the Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis.

The Woodlawn plant received a boost when Ford invested more than $200 million in a new press project.

"It's very important that we maintain that relationship between the assembly plants and the stamping plants, the surrogate relationship," said Kosaian, who visits the Woodlawn plant about once a month. "This was required to keep that going between Buffalo and Oakville."

Ford Motor Co. is undergoing an overhaul in a bid to rebuild its market share and shore up its finances. Kosaian quoted another Ford official as saying the Big 3 in the United States, GM, Ford and Chrysler, has given way to an "up-for-grabs Big 6" that also includes Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

Ford's restructuring includes buyouts of about 38,000 hourly workers, a reduction of its salaried work force by one third, and ceasing manufacturing at 16 North American plants by 2012. Nine of those plants have been identified, and will close by 2008. Only one stamping plant, in Maumee, Ohio, is on the list. Ford has not identified the other seven plants it will close. The Woodlawn plant is supplying 92 percent of the stamped body parts for the Edge, which Kosaian called Ford's most important vehicle launch of the year. The vehicle will fight for market share in what has become a booming, competitive segment, but Kosaian said he also sees an opportunity. "There doesn't appear to be any undisputed leader at the moment," he said.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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