Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ford knocks down Slovak plant report, eyes Romania

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - U.S. carmaker Ford (F.N: Quote, Profile, Research) on Thursday dismissed a media report saying it was considering building a new assembly plant in Slovakia.

The Slovak daily Hospodarske Noviny on Wednesday quoted unnamed sources as saying a new Ford factory would be located in an industrial park near the eastern Slovak town of Kechnec, where a Ford-Getrag joint venture already makes gearboxes.

But Todd Nissen, spokesman for Ford of Europe, told Reuters the story was purely "speculative".

"We cannot confirm anything like that (story)," he said.

The paper also quoted the Kechnec mayor as saying he was in talks with a renowned producer to make higher-class cars in the east. The investment should be worth tens of billions of crowns and create hundreds of jobs, the mayor said.

The state investment agency SARIO said it was not in talks with Ford about a new plant in Slovakia, which has been a magnet for investment inflows in the auto sector.

The auto sector accounts for one third of total industrial output and the Slovak crown is extremely sensitive to investment inflows because they put firming pressure on the currency.

Nissen reiterated Ford's interest in an upcoming privatisation of Romania's Automobile Craiova.

"Eastern Europe is certainly the area where markets are growing and we have to consider how to increase our presence there. We are preparing a bid for the plant in Romania, which we are also referring to as eastern Europe," Nissen said.

Nissen declined to reveal details of the bid, only saying that Ford was looking to expand the plant. The Romanian privatisation agency AVAS has said the buyer would have to ensure a minimum yearly output of 300,000 cars.

General Motors (GM.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and Russian Machines, a unit of one of the largest privately held conglomerates in Russia, are also said to be interested in the Romanian plant.

The deadline for binding bids is July 5.

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