DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. CEO Bill Ford said Thursday that Ford will announce plant closings and deeper cost-cutting moves in January.
That gives Ford's new North American leadership team the next several weeks to finalize the targeted plants and number of jobs on the chopping block.
Bill Ford said he expects Mark Fields, president of the Americas, and Anne Stevens, COO of the Americas, to bring their recommendations to him in December.
The plan will include "significant plant closings," he acknowledged during a telephone press conference.
"Our most significant challenge going forward is our cost structure, which clearly isn't where it needs to be," Bill Ford said.
He pledged that the cuts will go beyond UAW-represented plant workers.
Ford Motor is reducing its payroll throughout North America, especially in areas of the business that don't contribute to profits directly.
"There will be sacrifices asked of people throughout our company from top to bottom in these very difficult circumstances," Bill Ford said. "And we will reduce structure as well as jobs."
Ford Motor also is negotiating with the UAW on health care cost reductions. Bill Ford said he expects the UAW to give Ford the same types of breaks it has offered to General Motors. More details about health care concessions also are likely in January.
Bill Ford talked about the unfolding restructuring plan on Thursday after Ford Motor announced a third-quarter net loss of $284 million. The company lost $1.2 billion before taxes in its North American auto business.
The quarterly loss, the first for Ford since the fourth quarter of 2003, follows a protracted decline in the company's U.S. market share and deepening financial woes. U.S. sales of Ford vehicles are down 1.3 percent so far this year despite a massive discount program that helped clear inventory of unsold vehicles.
Ford and cross-town rival General Motors, which reported a $1.6 billion quarterly loss earlier this week, have seen their margins squeezed by intense competition in the U.S. market and by a dramatic slowdown in sales of mid-size and large SUVs, their former cash cows, due to high gasoline prices.
The companies are also struggling with higher costs and a cut in their credit ratings to high-yield, or "junk," status this year.
JP Morgan analyst Himanshu Patel said that while there were no major surprises in the third quarter report, the lack of specific restructuring news was disappointing.
"While fundamentals are admittedly weak, given the stock's weak recent performance, we are reluctant to get incrementally bearish, particularly ahead of a potential restructuring announcement," Patel said in a note to subscribers.
"That said, we continue to favor GM over Ford due to the former's more favorable 2006 product cycle, and its more aggressive restructuring approach."
Despite the net loss, Ford remains in the black for the year as a whole, while GM has lost about $3.8 billion through the first nine months of the year.
The automaker said third-quarter revenue rose to $40.86 billion from $39.1 billion a year earlier.
For the year, the automaker, which cut its fourth-quarter production target by 2.4 percent to 810,000 vehicles, said it expects earnings to be at the lower end of its forecast range of $1 to $1.25 per share.
Its auto operations posted a loss of $1.3 billion before taxes and excluding special charges, while its finance arm contributed net profit of $577 million. In North America, Ford lost $1.2 billion during the quarter, before taxes and excluding special items.
The company blamed lower dealer inventories, unfavorable vehicle mix, lower pricing, and higher warranty and material costs for the loss in North America, which is Ford's largest revenue-generating unit.
Ford's luxury brands, grouped under the Premier Automotive Group, narrowed their pretax loss to $108 million from $171 million a year earlier.
Ford CFO Don Leclair said the group would miss its full-year profit target of $300 million to $600 million.
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