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is preparing to cut as many as 20,000 jobs as part of a bid to save billions of dollars a year and get the company back on the path to profitability, according to a report in the

Financial Times


The Dearborn, Mich., automaker is also planning to close plants and reduce capacity, according to the report. The company has convened a special meeting of the board of directors, and the restructuring plans will be disclosed Friday, the report said.

The job cuts would take out at least 8,000 white-collar jobs, and up to 12,000 hourly workers would be encouraged to take an early retirement or voluntary severance package, according to the report.

A Ford representative wouldn't comment on the specifics of the report but did say that the company would have an announcement later this week regarding restructuring moves.

In August, Ford said it would take a $700 million charge in the fourth quarter to eliminate 4,000 to 5,000 jobs, largely through retirements. At the time, the company forecast earnings of 70 cents a share, excluding one-time items, for 2001. Wall Street's estimate back then was $1.20, according to First Call.

Then, in December, Ford projected a loss of 50 cents a share for the fourth quarter. The automaker, which was under siege in the last months of the year from

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General Motors

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in the interest-free financing wars, blamed the forecast on increased credit loss reserves and high marketing and product costs. Ford lost 28 cents a share in the third quarter, and the company had been hoping to improve on that result in the last quarter of the year.

Analysts are now expecting the company to lose 48 cents a share for the full year.

The warning came just weeks after the company slashed its dividend and ousted CEO Jacques Nasser. Late in October, Nasser was replaced by Chairman William Clay Ford Jr.

Ford has been under pressure to right itself since being dragged into the mire of the Bridgestone/Firestone faulty tire debacle that emerged in the summer of 2000. Ford's situation gradually deteriorated until the company finally had to bring in new blood and take steps to preserve cash. In the last three months of the year, the company's vehicle sales strengthened as buyers were enticed to car lots by the 0% financing deals the Big Three were offering. In December the company's sales rose 2%, down from a 4.4% increase in November and a 35% jump in October. Truck sales were up 14.9% for the month, and car sales slid 19.7%.

Around midday, shares of Ford were off 1.8% to $16.63.



was falling 3.1% to $44.21, but GM was up 0.7% at $50.46. In the past 52 weeks, Ford has traded in a range of $14.70 to $31.42.