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Mulally still confident about '08 vehicle launches

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Despite the economic woes that have derailed its profit plans, Ford Motor Co. isn’t scaling back volume expectations for its 2008 vehicle launches, CEO Alan Mulally says.

On May 22, Ford cut production and backed away from its pledge to be profitable in 2009, citing rising fuel prices that are driving buyers away from trucks and into cars. Even so, Ford still aims to hit volume targets previously established for the 2009 Ford Flex crossover and 2009 Lincoln MKS sedan, Mulally told reporters at a press event Monday.

Higher gasoline prices have hit pickup sales especially hard, but that also shouldn’t torpedo the launch of the re-engineered and restyled 2009 F-150, Mulally said.

“The way we’re thinking about that is, there’s really not a bad time to launch a new vehicle,” Mulally said. “What we have to manage is bringing down the overall volume on the trucks and SUVs as we make this awesome transition to the new one.”

The updated F-150 goes on sale in the fall. Ford hasn’t given volume projections for the 2009 model.

The Flex and MKS will go on sale in the next several weeks. Ford plans to sell between 75,000 and 100,000 Flexes annually. Ford expects to release the MKS for shipment to dealerships beginning on Tuesday and is targeting annual sales of around 36,000, company executives said Monday.

Higher gasoline prices shouldn’t hurt volumes of the Flex and MKS because consumers who were driving big SUVs are turning to cars and crossovers, Mulally said. They want improved fuel efficiency, but still may need the space of a bigger car.

Still, Ford’s overall business is hurting because of the segment shifts. The company is planning salaried job cuts and targeted buyouts for U.S. hourly workers. Mulally wouldn’t comment on reports that Ford is planning to cut up to 12 percent of its U.S. salaried work force. The numbers aren’t decided yet, he said.

Ford also is working through whether to close more plants, Mulally said. Ford intends to share more details about job cuts in late July.

Mulally plans to provide more guidance at that same time about when Ford might return to profitability. But he stopped short of saying that Ford would set a new target date.

“I don’t know because this is so volatile right now,” Mulally said. “You don’t want to get ahead of yourself.”

You can reach Amy Wilson at awilson@crain.com

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