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Chris Vander Doelen, Windsor Star
Published: Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The troubles being faced by Detroit's Big Three automakers are temporary and all three of the struggling companies will recover, Windsor West MPP Dwight Duncan claimed Monday.

Duncan told a Rotary luncheon that the demise of the Big Three has been inaccurately predicted several times before, during the 1980s and the 1990s. They recovered each time, he said.

"The industry is going through tough times, for sure," Duncan told about 200 members of the service club and their guests. "But I remember in the early 1990s they said the same thing. In the 1980s they said Chrysler would disappear.

"I have confidence we'll get through this," he said of the layoffs, early retirements and plant closures that have cast a pall over the Windsor-Detroit region. "They'll come back," he said of the Big Three.

General Motors, the Chrysler Group and especially the Ford Motor Company are experiencing a combination of slowing truck sales, high inventories and sliding market share.

Tens of thousands of workers in the U.S. are scheduled to retire early over the next 18 months as the Big Three and their suppliers shutter dozens of assembly plants and parts plants.

In Windsor, DaimlerChrysler is downsizing its assembly workforce by contracting out sub assembly work. Ford of Canada has announced it will close its Windsor foundry and an engine assembly plant next year, downsizing its local workforce by more than 1,100 people.

Duncan said he does not believe the laid off Ford employees will be out of work forever. Their jobs may be targetted for elimination "at the moment, but where will they be in five years?"

Few if any analysts following the automotive industry share Duncan's view. Most say they believe the market share lost by the Detroit-based automakers to Asian producers in recent years has been lost permanently.

While the Chrysler Group has already undergone a wrenching reorganization that cost it 30,000 employees, Ford and GM are still in the midst of downsizing their operations to meet market demand for their products.

More closures and layoffs at Ford, in particular, "are inevitable," Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with IRN, said recently. Ford "has to get realistic about having a 14 per cent market share," which is where the company sees itself by 2009.

Ford had a 25 per cent of the North American automotive market during the 1980s.

Last year it had an 18.4 per cent share which has since slid to 17.8 per cent.

It will have to make further cuts to its production and its workforce to match its sliding sales, Lindland said in an interview -- cuts in addition to the one dozen plant closures already announced this year.

Tony Faria, a professor of marketing at the University of Windsor, said recently the US$3.2 billion reduction in quarterly cash flow announced by Ford last week was "a massive, massive decline in sales" that must be matched by further production cuts.

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© The Windsor Star 2006
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