Phil Martens: Product development will play a role in Ford's pending restructuring.
In the past few years, Ford has already cut nearly 20 percent of product development and engineering jobs, said Ford product chief Phil Martens. The head count in North American product development and engineering now hovers around 13,000, down from almost 16,000, he said.
"We're pretty happy with the level we're at," said Martens, Ford group vice president of North America product creation, at a press event here. "At a point in time, you level out. And what you really want to do is work on the skill levels. That's where we are right now."
Cost-cutting won't compromise the new product programs meant to lead Ford's turnaround efforts, executives have said. That means it will be harder to trim the engineering ranks than other departments.
Ford has said it will cut at least 2,750 salaried jobs in North America this year. But further job cuts are in the works.
Some sources say as much as 30 percent of the North American automotive salaried work force - or about 10,500 jobs - could be trimmed over time.
With a major consolidation ongoing in its field and headquarters staff, the marketing and sales group is one unit that has been hit with deeper cuts.
CEO Bill Ford plans to announce a new restructuring plan this fall. It likely will include additional job cuts and proposed plant closings.
Product development will play a role in the pending restructuring, Martens said. But the changes will involve the group's structure and the number of product platforms in use more than head count. He wouldn't provide further details.
Even if engineers in the United States are largely spared by this fall's actions, Ford will continue to look for more efficient ways to use its technical resources globally.
"You can use your engineering dollars actually to have more people working on your programs worldwide," Martens said.
Core functions such as electrical engineering, design, packaging and platform engineering will stay in the United States. But the automaker increasingly is tapping engineers in lower-cost countries for tasks such as supplier part validation, Martens said.
For every dollar paid to a U.S. engineer, a Japanese engineer costs 75 cents, and a Mexican engineer 22 cents, he said.
He wouldn't say how the number of U.S. engineers will change over time.
"I can't tell you where we'll be in 10 years," Martens said. "Nobody can project that."
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