WILMINGTON, Del. -- Time ran out last week for Exide Technologies, the 125-year-old battery maker once led by longtime auto industry executive Bob Lutz.
With its Vernon, Calif., lead-recycling plant shut down since April by California environmental regulators and unable to restructure quickly enough, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
"As a result of the Vernon shutdown and the company's poor financial performance in the fourth fiscal quarter of 2013, it became apparent that a successful out-of-court restructuring was unlikely," CFO Phillip Damaska said in a filing last week in U.S. Bankruptcy Court here.
The Milton, Ga., company listed debts of $1.14 billion and assets of $1.89 billion in its filing. The filing won't affect obligations outside the United States, Exide said in a statement. Exide has about 3,600 employees and operations in more than 80 countries, making lead-acid batteries used in cars, trucks, tractors and boats.
Exide was once a major auto industry battery supplier, and was headed for about three years by Lutz. He joined Exide in January 1999. His tenure there occurred after he left Chrysler as vice chairman in 1998 and before he rejoined General Motors as vice chairman of product development in 2001. He remained an Exide board member until 2004.
The California Department of Toxic Substances and Control ordered Exide to suspend operations at the recycling plant on April 24, saying the plant failed to comply with state health standards, the company said the next day in a regulatory filing.
Exide said it disputes the regulators' findings and is fighting to reopen the plant. In the meantime, the company has a short-term source to replace lead it got from the Vernon plant and is trying to secure a long-term supply, according to court papers.
The company began a restructuring effort after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in 2010 switched to Johnson Controls Inc. to supply automotive batteries, Damaska said in the filing.
The loss of Wal-Mart as a customer reduced Exide's sales by about $160 million a year, he said. Wal-Mart is the world's largest retailer.
After the Vernon plant closing, Exide sped up its restructuring plans by hiring law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and financial adviser Alvarez & Marsal North America, according to court records.
The closing of the Vernon plant will cut about $24 million from Exide's earnings before taxes, interest and depreciation, Damaska said.
Exide also blamed the economic slowdown in Europe, where it gets about half of its revenue. In the first three months of this year, earnings before taxes, interest and depreciation fell to $14 million from $54 million in the same period in 2012, the company said.
The company has $31 million in interest payments due in August, Damaska said. Among the largest unsecured creditors listed in court papers are holders of $51.9 million in floating-rate convertible notes due in September.
Exide is asking a judge's permission to borrow as much as $500 million from lenders led by JPMorgan Chase & Co. to help carry it through bankruptcy, according to court papers.
Automotive News staff contributed to this report