Ford has shelved plans for a new car factory in Atlanta  [long known in the United States as the home of its Taurus and Mercury Sable stablemates] and is preparing to build its new family of midsize sedans and sport wagons in Mexico and Canada, angering some United Auto Workers leaders as both sides enter a key phase of negotiations on a new national labour pact, according to a report in The Detroit News.

The newspaper, citing two United Auto Workers (UAW) union officials and several industry analysts, said Ford plans to produce its new American family car, the Futura, along with other variations of the vehicle, at a factory in Hermosillo, Mexico, beginning in 2005. Starting in 2006, the car maker is scheduled to begin production of Ford- and Lincoln-branded sport wagons at a plant in Oakville, Ontario, the report added.

UAW officials told the Detroit News the loser in this scenario is Ford’s work force in Atlanta, which will now produce the aging Taurus and Sable sedans until late in the decade.

Citing Mitchell Smith, shop chairman of UAW Local [branch] 882 in Atlanta, which represents about 2,100 Ford workers, the newspaper said the work force was preparing to build the Futura or the sport wagons in Atlanta — either at the existing plant or a new plant in the region — before Ford changed plans earlier this year.

“It’s Canada 1, Mexico 1 and the United States 0,” Smith reportedly said. “It’s not pretty at all for us. We know the Futura’s going to Mexico and the (sport wagons) are going to Canada. They are sending all that production to other countries.

Smith told the Detroit News the union understands that Ford will annually produce 400,000 of the new cars in Hermosillo, Mexico [where it already builds some Focus models], and about 200,000 of the sport wagons in Oakville, Ontario.

The new models are part of Ford’s plans to build 10 midsize vehicles – as many as 800,000 units of annual production – off the basic chassis and underpinnings of the Mazda6 sedan, the paper added, noting that Ford has not publicly announced where it will build the new vehicles.

One Ford official, however, told the Detroit News that it is likely the first of the new vehicles will indeed be built in Mexico and Canada. Other models to be built off the Mazda-based chassis and scheduled to be introduced at a later date could be produced in Atlanta once the Taurus and Sable are discontinued, the official reportedly said.

The Detroit News said the UAW, which has 95,570 members employed by Ford, fiercely opposes the production of Big Three models for the US market in foreign countries and complained bitterly when GM opted to build the Chevrolet Avalanche pickup truck in Mexico rather than at a US plant.

Other US market models built in Mexico include Chrysler’s PT Cruiser, assembled in Toluca.

The Detroit News said the union is desperate to keep jobs in the United States as vehicle makers have shed thousands of jobs to reflect lower sales and falling US market share in recent years – the union typically uses contract bargaining to pressure vehicle makers into building future models at US plants.

The paper noted that, under a sweeping turnaround plan announced in early 2002, Ford plans to close assembly plants in St. Louis, Missouri, and Edison, New Jersey, as well as an Oakville, Ontario, pickup factory in Canada and two US parts plants.

Combined with other production cuts, the proposed closings will reduce Ford’s annual North American capacity to 4.8 million units from 5.7 million units – eliminating 12,000 hourly jobs, the Detroit News added.

Citing Smith of the UAW, the Detroit News said the bad news for Atlanta’s work force came in a town hall-style meeting in late June when Ford officials said the car maker was suspending plans to build a new assembly plant and a nearby supplier park in the Atlanta area, but would continue to study the idea.

Ford told the paper it remains committed to its work force in Atlanta whether or not it decides to build a new factory in Georgia.

“We are not in a position to discuss our plans for the Atlanta plant,” Ford spokesman Ed Lewis told the Detroit News, adding: “We have a great work force, and we are interested in continuing Ford’s presence in Georgia.”