Auto parts manufacturer AW N.C. furloughs quarter of Durham work force

Posted January 22, 2009 2:24 p.m. EST
Updated January 23, 2009 8:29 a.m. EST

— The auto industry slump caught up with AW North Carolina on Thursday.

The firm, which manufactures transmissions and other equipment for Toyota at a huge complex in the Treyburn Business Park, said it would temporarily idle 280 workers. That represents more than a quarter of the work force at the plant, which is owned by a Japanese company.

AW also offered “voluntary severance” to its salaried work force.

“We told team members that because of the continued economic downturn in the automotive business world, beginning Friday, Jan. 23, the salaried work force is being offered an opportunity to take a voluntary severance package should they so desire,” Will Collins, vice president of human resources for AW, said.

“AW North Carolina also announced that approximately 280 of our 1,100 team members here will be placed on temporary time off for several weeks and will be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits and will continue to receive company-paid medical benefits during that time,” he added.

AW’s facilities covers 820,000 square feet. The firm occupies 123 acres in Treyburn.

Opened in 1998, AW North Carolina increased its employee headcount from 950 as of Jaunary 2006 to some 1,200 in 2008.

According to the company’s Web site, it manufactures torque converters, oil pumps, clutch assemblies, stamped parts and fully assembled transmissions. AW lists Toyota of North America as its customer.

“Over the past several months, we have evaluated a number of options and scenarios as we determine what is in the best, long-term interest of AW-NC and our team members,” Collins said. “We have periodically suspended daily production of transmissions and assigned production team members to other projects, special training, and skills improvement in many areas. We hope these past and current actions demonstrate how much we value AW-NC team members.”

Given the current state of the economy, Collins said the company would have to evaluate future production demand.

“We don’t know precisely what the production needs will be in coming months for transmissions and components we manufacture here,” he said. “We will continue to evaluate developments in the automotive marketplace as well as our anticipated production needs. No specific timetables to complete this evaluation have been set at this time.”

AW North Carolina is part of Aisin AW Co Ltd., a global transmission manufacturer is based in Anjo City, Japan.

The company’s first Treyburn facility, built at a cost of $100 million, employed some 250 people and covered 316,000 square feet.

In 2002, AW North Carolina expanded with an additional 430,000-square-foot building that cost $150 million. AW’s work force grew by another 450 people when that plant opened.

Last fall, as the auto industry began to feel the impact of the slowing economy, AW applied for and received a $50,000 grant from the Incumbent Worker Training Fund through the N.C. Department of Commerce. The company worked with Durham Technical Community College to provide additional training for employees that otherwise might have been laid off.