Visteon, the second-biggest U.S. auto-parts maker, said former parent Ford agreed to take over 24 plants, bailing out its largest supplier...

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Visteon, the second-biggest U.S. auto-parts maker, said former parent Ford agreed to take over 24 plants, bailing out its largest supplier for the third time in 17 months.

Taking back the plants will cost Ford about $1.15 billion, including as much as $650 million this year, the carmaker said yesterday. Ford, the second-biggest U.S. automaker, will put the plants and its 17,400 workers in a holding company for possible sale. Ford plans to cut about 5,000 of those workers over the next four years.

Shedding plants may help Visteon stave off bankruptcy after losing 95 percent of its net worth since its 2000 spinoff from Ford. For Ford, the agreement prolongs the survival of its biggest source of parts when its own sales are shrinking and auto operations are losing money.

“It was either this or Chapter 11” for Visteon, said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research.

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The agreement allows Visteon to eliminate Ford employees that cost the parts maker about double what hourly workers at rival suppliers are paid. The employees, who have been working at Visteon since the spinoff, are paid by Ford, with Visteon reimbursing the automaker for the costs.

Visteon shares rose 90 cents, or 14 percent to $7.17. Ford shares fell 2 cents to $9.96.

Ford agreed in December 2003 and again in March to provide financial aid to Visteon, in part to maintain a steady supply of parts in North America. Visteon’s products include interiors, chassis components and steering and electronic parts.

The transaction will enable Ford to “maintain a key part of our supply base as it’s being restructured,” Chief Financial Officer Don Leclair said on a conference call. Ford will look for buyers for the plants, he said.

Magna International, Canada’s largest auto-parts maker, would “entertain a discussion” about purchasing a plant, Magna President Mark Hogan said yesterday.

“The deal at this stage clearly looks very positive for Visteon and negative for Ford,” John Casesa, a Merrill Lynch analyst, said in a note to investors.

“Ford is finally doing the massive cleanup of the hodge-podge of Visteon businesses that probably should have been done years ago,” said Sasha Kamper, who helps manage $65 billion, including Ford bonds at Principal Global Investors.

Leclair said some of the 5,000 buyouts may occur this year, with the bulk to come in 2006. The Ford employees working at Visteon are paid about $60 an hour in wages and benefits, about twice what workers at other parts companies get.

Ford will continue to pay employees who remain their current wages, he said. Purchasers will reimburse Ford at a lower wage rate, with Ford absorbing the difference.

Yesterday’s agreement, in addition to being subject to a United Auto Workers vote, also needs regulatory approval. The companies said they expect to sign a final agreement before Aug. 1 and complete the transaction at the end of the third quarter.

The operations being transferred to Ford include 15 U.S. plants represented by the UAW. Union members at the plants are scheduled to vote from Tuesday to June 5 whether to accept the restructuring.

Union leaders meeting yesterday in Detroit recommended approval.