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Tue, Jan 24, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Ford to make huge job cuts, shutter ten factories

AFP , CHICAGO

Ford Motor Co workers face a "Black Monday" when the auto giant announces huge job cuts and plant closures in a new bid to counter the loss in market share to Asian rivals.

News reports said 29,000 job cuts and 10 plant closures were to be announced by company chairman and chief executive Bill Ford yesterday.

"We're going to do what we have to do. It's just very, very sad," Ford told Time magazine ahead of the announcement.

But he added: "My goal is to fight Toyota and everyone else and come out on top."

Quoting people familiar to Ford's "Way Forward" plan, the Detroit News said on Sunday that 25,000 factory workers would lose their jobs over five years and 4,000 clerical and managerial jobs would be cut by April.

It said 10 plants could be closed under the plan, which follows a similar huge cost-cutting by General Motors, the world's biggest carmaker.

Including hourly and salaried job cuts, Ford was to commit yesterday to reducing its 120,000-member North American work force by about a quarter, according to people familiar with the plan quoted by the Detroit News.

Media reports said unions and workers were already calling it "Black Monday."

The company chairman told Time there would be greater emphasis on hybrid gasoline-electric engines and other environment innovations and bolder designs.

"The old way of doing things doesn't work," Ford was quoted as saying. "Is [this] risky? Of course it's risky but I tell you what: Going the way we were going is the highest risk of all."

Analysts said investors are more worried about whether Ford will get its auto operations back to profitability and many have doubts.

"The near-term savings are not going to be as much as it needs to be," Brian Ropp, an auto analyst with the T. Rowe Price brokerage told reporters. "What it does is keep them from producing cars they don't need and they won't have to discount the cars as much."

The savings from job cuts are limited by the automaker's contract with its main union.

Hourly employees who do not take early retirement packages enter the jobs bank retraining program in which they collect full pay and benefits while waiting for a spot to open up on the assembly line.

Cutting production levels also will not help Ford's declining market share. In the past 10 years, Ford has seen its share of the US market drop from 26.4 to 17.4 percent, the lowest level since the 1920s.

Ford boosted overall sales in the 1990s with sports utility vehicles but its market share in that profitable segment waned as Japanese rivals introduced smaller, car-based crossover sports utility vehicles.

The real trouble hit last year when US gasoline prices topped US$3 a gallon and Ford's light truck sales -- which include the SUVs -- fell 8.7 percent.

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