Bosch to cut 200 workers

Seventy-five employees signed up for a voluntary buyout at the Robert Bosch Corp. plant in North Charleston over the past few weeks, but that wasn't nearly enough to offset the slowing demand for the automotive parts the factory churns out.

As Detroit's Big Three carmakers were reporting dreary double-digit sales declines Monday, Bosch said it would gradually reduce its workforce in Dorchester County by about 200 employees, or roughly 10 percent, over the next few weeks.

"It's a difficult day," said Becky MacDonald, director of operational communications.

Workers who took the buyout received a severance package that was based on years of service and seniority, but company officials did not release details.

"Our intention was to as conscientiously as possible offer voluntary severance packages," MacDonald said.

At the Dorchester Road site, the three shifts of workers make fuel injectors for diesel and gasoline-powered engines and brake components. The parts are later installed in domestic and overseas vehicles, which have seen weakening demand since the global economic crisis took hold.

"This is absolutely related to reduced demand for the products we manufacture in the facility," MacDonald said Monday.

South Carolina's auto sector has been hard hit by the waning demand for vehicles, as governments, businesses and consumers tighten their belts as the U.S. recession enters its second year.

Cummins Turbo Technologies said last month that it laid off 90 workers at two North Charleston plants that make turbochargers for trucks. The struggling economy also forced Wabco, which makes air compressors for Cummins, to delay an expansion of its Leeds Avenue manufacturing site.

In Moncks Corner, Gates Corp. has announced plans to shutter a factory that makes rubber belts for the auto market by early this year, eliminating 200 jobs.

The industry pullback hit the Midlands in December when Continental AG announced plans to close its Blythewood fuel-injector plant, which employs 440 workers.

It was the industry's mounting troubles that prompted Bosch, one of the Charleston region's largest private-sector employers, to offer voluntary buyouts to its 2,100-worker payroll on Dec. 4. The company also has offered severance deals to all 1,380 workers at its Upstate plant. Employees in Anderson have until Friday to decide whether to take the offer.

Even before the buyouts were announced, the local Bosch plant had been showing signs of strain. In July, the factory began a review of its temporary work force needs as a result of the industry slowdown. In November, Bosch said it had laid off 20 employees and eliminated most contractual positions at the 905,760-square-foot factory.

Privately held Bosch is part of Germany-based Robert Bosch Gmbh. Its U.S. headquarters is in Michigan.

The company opened its Dorchester County plant in 1973 with 105 workers; and over the last three decades, it has expanded the factory six times at a cost of more than $500 million.