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2006-08-10 07:30

Jui Chakravorty

Ford, which is battling shrinking US market share and rising costs, has said it will announce details of the updated plan by the end of September to respond to the weakening demand for trucks and sport utility vehicles in the US market.

Ford, which posted a second-quarter loss of $254 million and has hired an outside financial adviser, has said it will close 14 plants and cut up to 30 000 factory jobs to return its North American unit to profitability by 2008.

Mark Fields, president of Ford's operations in the Americas, said the accelerated restructuring would broadly follow the plan the automaker announced in January dubbed the "Way Forward."

"Acceleration doesn't mean a new plan. It means a new timetable," he said in a speech at the Management Briefing Seminars, an annual gathering of auto industry executives.

"But I can confirm that our plans do include more new products, and sooner, quicker and deeper cost-cutting and more metrics to measure us by," said Fields.

The company has nine new Ford and Lincoln-Mercury models going on sale in the next six months, including the Ford Shelby GT, a new, high-performance Mustang, Fields said.

Ford also plans to launch the Lincoln MKS flagship sedan in 2008, based on the concept vehicle shown at the North American International Auto Show in January.

Ford has faced criticism for the slow pace of its new vehicle launches, which have left it exposed to the weakening market for pickup trucks and SUVs.

Erich Merkle, director of forecasting for market research firm IRN Inc., said Ford needs the new products, but added that a fuller revamp of its line-up would take far longer.

"You can accelerate things by a couple months, but you are not going to take product from scratch and bring it to market in 24 months," he said.

'Tectonic' shift

Fields said the industry is undergoing a "tectonic" shift as consumers shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The shift in demand from SUVs and pickup trucks over the past year has cost the US car industry $8 billion in lost revenue, he said. "And the shift to smaller cars won't make up for that difference," he said.

"The old saying 'If you build it, they will buy it' needs to be put to rest," Fields said. "'If they will buy it, we will build it' is the way we need to approach the future."

He added: "We expect medium and full-size pick-ups to stabilize at this year's level and stay there for the foreseeable future."

Ford, which has dominated the lucrative pick-up truck market, has seen sales of its F-series fall more than 10 percent so far this year.

Fields said Ford still controlled 35 percent of the segment through July, but some analysts are watching the market as larger rival General Motors Corp. prepares to launch a redesigned version of its large pick-ups.

Ford said its potential $1 billion investment would be used to increase the ability of its Michigan plants to shift production among several models as demand changes. It would also use the money for research and development if future products, advanced powertrain technologies and hybrid vehicles.

  • (Additional reporting by Poornima Gupta in Detroit)

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