Fast-rising gas prices claimed their latest victim Thursday: Ford Motor Co. dropped its goal of becoming profitable by 2009 and said it will cut production of trucks and sport utility vehicles through the rest of this year. It was a warning shot to the rest of the beleaguered U.S. auto industry, which is facing its worst sales in more than a decade.
Ford didn't rule out layoffs or plant closures as it retrenches in a slumping industry, saying it would release more details about its cost-cutting efforts in July. Ford cut its forecast for U.S. light vehicle sales this year to between 14.7 million and 15.1 million, down from 17 million as recently as 2005. If sales drop as low as 14.7 million, it would be the slowest year for U.S. vehicle sales since 1993, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank.
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Ford said it will cut North American production by 15percent in the second quarter, 15-20 percent in the third quarter and 2-8 percent in the fourth quarter. The cuts will primarily affect pickups and sport utility vehicles, which have seen sales plummet in recent months due to rising gas prices, the weak economy and the slowdown in new home construction.
Production cuts hurt automakers' revenues because the companies book vehicles as sold when they leave the factory.
“We all would like the basic business environment to not have deteriorated, but clearly the most important thing we can do for the long-term success of the Ford Motor Company is deal with this reality,” Ford President and chief executive Alan Mulally said in a conference call Thursday.
Mulally said the company expects a longer and slower recovery than it did several weeks ago and won't immediately set a new profitability target. Ford predicts gas prices will be in the $3.75 to $4.25 range for the rest of the year.
It was a stunning turnaround from last month, when Ford posted a surprise first-quarter profit of $100 million and billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian announced plans to buy up to 20 million shares of Ford stock because of his confidence in the company's direction. Ford said Thursday its board voted to remain neutral on Kerkorian's offer.
Still, some analysts cheered Ford's actions, saying the company is adequately responding to the challenging market.