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ZF, maker of auto transmissions, laying off workers

Some 50 employees accept buyout offers

POSTED: December 16, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The decrease in demand for vehicles and heavy equipment has been felt at ZF Industries in Gainesville.

Bryan Johnson, a spokesman for the North American division of the company, did not say how many workers were affected by the current layoff; however, an estimated 50 workers have accepted a buyout offer from the company.

"We had to lay off a number of employees," said Johnson. "Our customers have gone through their reductions, and we’re doing the same thing. It’s a trickle down effect."

Johnson said a number of workers have accepted the buyout offer, but he could not say exactly how many. He estimated that about 50 workers accepted the voluntary program.

The Gainesville location houses North American production for two ZF divisions — commercial vehicle and special driveline technology, and off-road driveline technology and axle systems — to provide drive axles for passenger cars and light trucks, as well as transmissions and axles for off-highway and construction equipment.

The 210,000-square-foot facility had as many as 320 workers. Its customers include Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, John Deere, Tata, JLG, Bell and Harlo. In addition to supplying directly to manufacturers, products from Gainesville are shipped to ZF locations in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Adelaide, Australia.

In 1996, the WG Powershift Transmission for construction equipment was launched. Two years later, it was followed by the launch of the six-speed, heavy-duty manual transmission for Ford. This led to the first of three building expansions.

Just one year later, General Motors added the ZF six-speed, manual transmission to its heavy-duty lineup, and an additional 12,000 square feet of manufacturing space was built. In 2003, the multi-track axle line for construction equipment was launched. And, in 2004, the drive axle line for Mercedes-Benz began production.

During 2005, the facility expanded to its current size. Two more assembly lines were installed in 2006 — the drive axle line for General Motors and the MST axle line for construction equipment.

This is the only ZF plant that has two divisions under one roof, and both have been affected equally, Johnson said.

Based in Friedrichshafen, Germany, ZF is among the 15 largest automotive suppliers in the world. The company has 122 locations in 26 countries.

ZF produced its first transmissions in Gainesville in 1986.



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