Originally created 08/04/06

Ford trying to stop its skid



DETROIT - Amid setbacks including the expansion of a major recall on Thursday and restating its second-quarter losses to about twice the original amount, Ford Motor Co. is trying to speed up its North American turnaround.

Hence the hiring of a former Wall Street merger and acquisitions whiz as a strategic adviser, cementing the idea that everything is on the table as the nation's No. 2 automaker battles sluggish sales, rising costs and ferocious competition from Asian rivals.

On Tuesday, industry figures for July showed that for the first time, Ford sold fewer vehicles than Toyota Motor Corp. in the United States - underscoring its woes.

Last month, Ford pledged to speed up and possibly deepen its North American turnaround plan. And analysts say the hiring of Kenneth Leet to advise Bill Ford, the automaker's chairman and chief executive, increases the possibility that the company might try to sell some operations as part of its restructuring.

"Everything has to be in play, whether it's job cuts or plant closings or alliances or partnerships or sale of assets," said auto analyst David Cole. "You really can't avoid looking at every element."

Ford says it has no plans to sell any of its brands or invest in a new alliance. Crosstown rival General Motors Corp. is studying a possible alliance with Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA.

But in an e-mail to employees this week and comments last month, Mr. Ford made it clear that the company is keeping its options open.

"I will continue to evaluate the rapidly changing landscape of our industry and review the best ways in which we should adjust," Mr. Ford wrote Wednesday. "That's why I've hired Ken Leet to assist me and our senior management team in evaluating our business and exploring strategic options."

Mr. Ford hasn't said how he would accelerate the turnaround effort, but expects to detail efforts by mid-September.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Ford is starting a review of poorly performing units, including Jaguar, with an eye toward the possible sale of some operations. But some analysts note that Jaguar is intertwined with Ford on purchasing, manufacturing and distribution - making a sale complex.

Mr. Ford, meanwhile, asserted that the company has benefited from turnaround efforts.

"Contrary to speculation, nothing has been decided and we will not rush to judgments," he wrote in his e-mail. "I'm proud of the progress that our operating units and brands around the world are making."

Ford, which has been losing market share to Asian manufacturers for a decade, has been badly stung by high gas prices because big trucks and SUVs account for nearly 70 percent of the vehicles it sells. Analysts say any more job or plant cuts must be accompanied by new, appealing vehicles outside of the realm of trucks and SUVs.

"It's difficult to cut your way to success," said Michael Robinet, vice president for global forecasting at the auto industry consulting company CSM Worldwide. "It's going to come down to product."

On Thursday, Ford recalled 1.2 million trucks, sport utility vehicles and vans amid concerns about potential engine fires. The news, which builds on one of the largest recalls in U.S. history, came a day after Ford said that its second-quarter loss more than doubled from what it previously reported because of higher-than-expected pension costs.

FORD RECALL


Ford recalled 1.2 million trucks, sport utility vehicles and vans Thursday amid concerns about potential engine fires. The vehicles include these gasoline or natural gas models equipped with speed control:


- The 1994-2002 F-250, F-350, F-450 and F-550 F-Super Duty trucks


- 2000-2002 Excursion SUVs


- 1994-1996 Econoline vans and 1996-2002 E-450 vans


- 1998 Explorers and Mountaineers.


The recall does not involve similar vehicles fueled by diesel.


- Associated Press



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