LONDON - Ford and Mitsubishi officials are expected to meet this week to discuss the future of the Volvo-Mitsubishi joint venture in the Netherlands known as NedCar.
Ford Motor Co., which announced plans to buy Volvo's car operations last month, says it remains committed to NedCar even though the models produced at the factory compete more directly with Ford models than any other Volvos.
'The S40 and V40 models in question represent a significant portion of Volvo's annual sales, and we would expect them to continue to be a major contributor to Volvo's forward year volumes,' Wayne Booker, Ford vice chairman, said last week.
UNIONS FEAR JOB LOSSES
Booker was responding to speculation from a Swedish labor official that the proposed purchase of Volvo Car by Ford could mean job losses if Volvo's participation in the NedCar project is terminated.
Although well-placed sources said the talks were likely, spokesmen for Ford and Mitsubishi declined to comment. But when Ford's agreement to buy Volvo Car was announced, Mitsubishi Motor Corp. President Katsuhiko Kawasoe issued a statement saying: 'Mitsubishi is willing to hold talks if Ford Motor Co. expresses interest in discussing concrete business issues.'
At the time of the announcement, Ford President Jac Nasser told reporters in Sweden that constructive talks with Mitsubishi already had taken place.
Local union officials fear job losses if Ford consolidates manufacturing operations in the region. Ford's plant in Cologne, Germany, and NedCar's plant in Born, the Netherlands, are only 50 miles apart. Ford's Genk, Belgium, plant is just 28 miles from NedCar, and Volvo's Ghent, Belgium, plant is just over 60 miles from Genk.
Earlier, NedCar officials told Automotive News Europe, a sister publication to Automotive News, that Mitsubishi and Volvo have begun development work on replacements for the S40/V40 and Carisma models.
They said it was too late to adapt a Ford platform for the next S40/V40.
Meanwhile, Fiat and Volvo engaged in a brief battle of press releases last week over a $13 billion offer Fiat supposedly made for Volvo's entire business.
Speaking to the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dag-bladet last week, Volvo CEO Leif Johansson said Fiat had not made a concrete bid of more than $13 billion for the whole Volvo group, as had been reported.
'We must announce a concrete bid to the market. It did not go so far with Fiat, but on the other hand we did have an understanding during that time about what levels they could be thinking about,' he said.
Fiat responded with the statement: 'The Fiat Group, after several meetings with the Volvo management, tabled a friendly, concrete and detailed offer for the acquisition of the entire Swedish group.'
Instead, Volvo decided to sell its car division to Ford for $6.5 billion in order to concentrate on its other businesses, including trucks, buses and commercial products. Volvo shareholders will vote on the Ford proposal at a meeting in March.