Safelite AutoGlass, the nation’s largest automotive glass installation company, will close its plant in Enfield, N.C., and cease manufacturing automotive glass parts before the end of the year. Officials say the decision was based on the increased complexity—and cost—of manufacturing such parts as their complexity and number of different types are expected to increase rapidly in the future.
“It’s a difficult decision for us,” said Safelite CEO Tom Feeney in an exclusive interview with glassBYTEs.com™/AGRR™ magazine this morning, “but the world has changed and automotive glass technology has changed. Vehicles require more complex parts that are very expensive to make. Automated Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) will become mainstream much more quickly than any anticipated. It is not feasible for us to continue in manufacturing.”
Feeney also mentioned that the opening of Fuyao Glass America’s new plant in Moraine, Ohio, as having impacted the decision.
“We’ve known for some time that this was the direction we would move it. We have been soft signaling it to our suppliers for some time,” he continued. Feeney said union officials in North Carolina were informed of the closing on Friday and other Safelite employees were told this morning.
“This is not a decision that is made lightly,” he continued. “About 200 associates are impacted. We are assisting them with finding other jobs and we have told them they may continue employment with Safelite if they are willing to relocate. Fuyao has also said it will consider employment for some, so there are options.”
Feeney was non-committal when asked which companies would be manufacturing the more than 1,000 parts the plant produces once it exits the business. “That’s still to be decided,” he said. “We have been talking to a number of them. We have a strategic relationship with AGC already as well. Given the capacity in the market, I don’t think we will have a problem choosing suppliers.”
The plant manufactured approximately 1 million replacement windshields annually. Safelite has been manufacturing vehicle glass since 1947. The Enfield plant opened in 1970.
Feeney emphasized that this was a Safelite decision and that its parent company has been supportive. “Belron is very decentralized,” he said, “this was our decision here. We establish the strategy and compete for capital investments.” Feeney said Safelite did not request capital funds from Belron for the future plant development. “We did not request it. We have to remain competitive and, given the changing nature of technology, that was going to be difficult to do in manufacturing no matter what. We made the determination months ago that we needed to exit that part of the business. Safelite was the only one of Belron’s business units that was in manufacturing.”
When asked if the decision had anything to do with quality issues surrounding parts coming out of the plant, Feeney said no. “Absolutely not, the quality in that plant stood up against anyone’s. It was excellent. It was good enough for AGC to allow us to imprint products with their logo. We made that plant as OE-like as possible and we are very proud of that,” he said. “It’s another one of those untrue industry myths that there were quality issues there.”
“Our company has changed a lot in the past ten years,” he said. “It continues to evolve. This is a strategic decision for the future.” Feeney said the plant will most likely close before the end of October.
The Enfield property will be listed for sale.
All finished goods will be moved to the company’s Braselton, Ga., distribution center.
AGRR™ magazine editors took a tour of the facility in 2009. To take a look inside, click here and flip to page 32.