It’s been a while since we’ve heard the word “buyout” echoing out of Detroit, as 2008 marked the year in which auto industry employees finally started to be fired like everyone else: without a hefty severance kiss-off. Ford, on the other hand, did not get a shot at free house-cleaning in bankruptcy court, so it’s bringing back buyouts. According to Market Watch, the Blue Oval is offering blue-collar employees a $50,000 lump sum payment and a $25,000 voucher for a new vehicle or another $20,000 lump sum, as well as six months of health insurance coverage. There’s even an extra $40k for workers of “a certain age.” But this being Detroit, employee benefits are either feast or famine. While Ford’s workers are being offered cash for their jobs, the former Ford parts division Visteon announced today that it is seeking to dump pensions for 21,000 retirees in bankruptcy, following Delphi into yet another stealthy yet popular form of indirect automaker bailout.
The Freep reports that creditors in Visteon’s bankruptcy are investigating Ford’s relationship with its spun-off supplier, implying that the Blue Oval could be responsible for its financial downfall. The creditors have requested the release of documents relating to Ford’s 2000 spin-off of its parts maker, and financial transactions between the two firms since then. They’re hoping to show that Ford forced losses onto the supplier, possibly securing better claims for creditors. The creditor committee motion explains:
Since the spin-off transaction, there has been no semblance of arm’s length bargaining between Visteon and Ford. Ford appears to have utilized its insider status to control Visteon to Visteon’s detriment.
There’s no shortage of analysis hailing Ford’s last-man-standing status, but there’s plenty of buried truth that’s not being brought to light. For example, Ford’s version of Delphi, bankrupt spun-off supplier Visteon. The firm’s non-European and Asian operations have been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy since May, and according to Automotive News [sub], it’s running out of DIP financing. Ford financed the supplier’s first month in bankruptcy, after which Visteon began burning through cash it was holding as collateral for its borrowings. And now that money is set to run out in March, forcing the firm to go hunting for $150m in further DIP financing. Unsecured creditors are objecting, calling the move a power grab by senior, secured lenders who seem willing to lend more money in order to edge out unsecured claims. And while that battle rages on, other OEMs are bailing on Visteon. Chrysler will come up with some $31m to buy back its supply business from the weakened supplier, Nissan is buying its Visteon-run North American interior plants back for $11m, while GM shifted its Visteon business to competitors at a cost of $22m. Ford, Visteon’s biggest customer and former owner is making no such move to abandon its most crucial supplier. If DIP funding comes up short, or if more bumps appear in Visteon’s bankruptcy (or if things continue as normal… Visteon lost $38m last quarter), Ford will face the brunt of the fallout. And with $30b in debt, and no government escrow account to draw on, Ford won’t be able to help out Visteon the way GM rescued Delphi earlier this year.