DETROIT - Hidden behind Ford Motor Co.'s restructuring plan is a grim reality: The company gets only a smattering of new products over the next two years, just as competitors are preparing to assault Ford's core markets.
The result: Ford Division and Lincoln Mercury likely will see their combined U.S. market share drop perilously close to a 32-year low of 19.7 percent.
For Ford Motor, that is a stark reversal. In the mid-1990s, some industry experts believed Ford would edge past General Motors to become the world's biggest automaker. No longer. General Motors has introduced a batch of attractive trucks, and in October it seized the marketing initiative with its 0 percent loan program.
As GM builds momentum, Honda and Nissan are attacking Ford Motor with new truck models.
Meanwhile, Ford Motor is closing plants and laying off workers. On Friday, Jan. 11, Ford confirmed it will cut its production capacity in North America to 4.8 million units, down from 5.7 million units.
It said it will close three assembly plants and acknowledged that it has no future products scheduled for two others. The company plans to eliminate 12,000 hourly jobs and 1,500 salaried jobs in North America.
Those moves will help Ford Motor break even this year, said Chairman Bill Ford.
Despite the cutbacks, he vowed to protect the company's $7 billion annual budget for product development.
"Our turnarounds have always been led by products," Bill Ford said during a press conference on Friday, speaking of the cutbacks. "We can't cost-cut our way to a product-led recovery."
But for the next two years, Ford won't come close to matching the new-product firepower of its rivals.
Ford Motor executives say they plan to introduce two products this year and three models in 2003, some of them relatively low-volume vehicles. But Ford's three major Japanese competitors - Toyota, Honda and Nissan - each are preparing to introduce full-sized pickups, roomy minivans and large sport-utilities.
Those segments have been a Big 3 stronghold until now, and the product blitz will make it tough for Ford to hold on to its U.S. market share, currently, 21.9 percent.
Here are highlights of the importer's product blitz: