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Company chief is upbeat on future



Published: Thu, August 11, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Delphi's CEO liked the quality and performance of the local plants he visited.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

CHAMPION -- The executive trying to turn around Delphi Corp. visited local plants Wednesday and said he hopes he can keep the troubled auto parts supplier out of bankruptcy.

Steve Miller, chairman and chief executive of the Michigan-based company, said he would prefer to maintain control of operations, rather than submit them to the authority of a bankruptcy court. The company's unions and customers both could be hurt if that happens, he said.

Delphi officials said this week that bankruptcy will be considered if restructuring talks fail with General Motors Corp. and the United Auto Workers. Miller, a turnaround specialist, has taken other companies into bankruptcy.

He met briefly with reporters after his morning visit to Trumbull County, saying he was impressed with the operations of Delphi Packard Electric Systems.

He visited Packard's plastic injection molding plant in Vienna Township, which opened two years ago and has a defect rate of nearly zero and a test center in Champion.

Getting familiar with area

Miller said he told employees that the Warren-based division will be fine if it maintains its record of high-quality production and excellent service. Packard makes wiring harnesses and related components.

Miller was hired two months ago and has been visiting Delphi plants.

Ann Cornell Vickers, a Packard spokeswoman, said Miller thought a first-hand look at Delphi plants would help him understand the company.

"Delphi is a very large company, and it isn't something you can get the feel of just by looking at papers," she said.

Little has been revealed about one of Miller's first big efforts -- the restructuring talks with GM and the UAW.

Cornell Vickers said the talks are aimed at reducing what is known as legacy costs -- pension obligations and health care expenses for retirees.

Avoiding bankruptcy

Industry analysts say none of the parties wants a bankruptcy. GM, which used to own Delphi, would face potential supply interruptions and be on the hook for part of Delphi's pension and health care costs, they say. The UAW is trying to protect its 25,000 members who work at Delphi.

The local Packard employees are represented by the International Union of Electrical Workers. Officials with IUE Local 717, which represents about 3,800 Packard workers, have said they haven't been contacted by Delphi about the restructuring, but Cornell Vickers said the company has had high-level talks with the union.

Delphi has said it must reduce costs in its U.S. operations. Miller said earlier this week that the company is paying $130,000 per hourly worker in annual wages and benefits. In the second quarter, Delphi spent more than $100 million for idled hourly workers who are still entitled to pay.

Delphi has 180,000 workers around the world at 180 manufacturing plants and other facilities. Packard has about 80,000 workers, including about 5,000 in the Mahoning Valley.

shilling@vindy.com




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