Ford Motor Co. said that Associates First Capital Corp., of which it owns about 80%, won the bidding for a Ford subsidiary's vehicle leasing and management business.

Associates First agreed to pay $875 million in cash to San Francisco- based USL Capital Corp. for its fleet services business. USL is Ford's commercial finance and leasing company.

The deal is the latest in an effort by Ford to shore up shareholder values by separating its financial services and auto manufacturing operations.

Last month, Ford held an initial public offering of Associates First stock, spinning off a 19.8% stake and raising $1.9 billion. On May 23, USL Capital agreed to sell its rail services unit to First Union Corp. in a deal that carried a $900 million price tag.

A spokesman for Associates First said the Dallas-based consumer and commercial finance company had expressed interest in the leasing and management business earlier this year. It was only after Ford decided to parcel off USL Capital's individual businesses that Associates First put in a bid on the fleet services operation. In an opinion rendered for Ford's shareholders, Salomon Brothers judged the transaction to be a fair deal.

"This is not a transfer of the unit without compensation," the spokesman said. "We're paying cash."

The fleet operation has in excess of $700 million in assets, including more than 100,000 autos, light trucks, and vans, the company reports. The operations accounted for about 7% of USL Capital's managed assets.

The Associates First spokesman said that the addition of USL Capital's 1,850 commercial customers would cause little overlap with Associates First's existing leasing and management operations. USL Capital had strong ties in the western and northeastern parts of the United States. Associates First is strong in the South and Midwest.

The acquisition is another step in Associates First's plan to diversify its financing businesses through acquisition. In April, the company acquired the recreational vehicle finance business of Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. That deal, which is expected to close before the end of the second quarter, will bring an estimated $400 million in assets to Associates First at a cost of $157 million in cash.

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