German-American automaker

DaimlerChrysler

(DCX)

said this morning it will cut 26,000 jobs, or about 20% of its workforce, over next three years in order to "regain competitiveness under difficult business circumstances."

The Auburn Hills, Mich., company, which has been facing problems at its U.S. unit, also said it plans to idle six North American manufacturing plants over the next two years.

DaimlerChrysler said 75% of the job reductions, which come mainly through retirement programs, will be made in 2001. The reductions will be carried out under the framework of existing union contracts.

Shares of the company, which plans to announce its full "turnaround plan" on Feb. 26, were down 42 cents, or 0.9%, to $47.82 in morning trading on the

New York Stock Exchange

.