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Ford considering acceleration of closings, cuts

Analysts expecting benefit reductions, white collar layoffs

DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co.'s board of directors began a two-day meeting yesterday to contemplate a plan that could have the ailing automaker slash jobs and reduce factories further and faster in its quest to revive profits.

Details from the meeting, which is expected to continue today, were not available.

Many industry analysts say the new round of restructuring is crucial to the company's future and will involve cuts to bring Ford's production capacity in line with its declining sales and market share.

White collar jobs and benefits also reportedly are in line for reductions.

Catherine Madden, an auto industry analyst at the consulting company Global Insight Inc., said it is imperative for Ford to make further manufacturing cuts. Her company forecasts that two more plants will be shut down.

``There's no doubt they don't need these facilities, and the cost of running them is killing Ford. They have to reduce capacity or they will not survive in the future," she said.

In July, Ford pledged to accelerate its ``Way Forward" plan, which when introduced in January called for cutting up to 30,000 jobs and closing 14 facilities by 2012.

Ford has been suffering from ferocious competition from Japanese rivals and a failure to ignite consumer interest in its vehicles.

While its last two restructuring plans fell short of what was needed, Morgan Stanley analyst Jonathan Steinmetz said in a note to investors yesterday that he did not expect the latest round to be off target.

``We expect Ford's revised Way Forward plan to include meaningful cost-cutting of approximately $5.5 billion to $6 billion primarily centering on reduced hourly labor costs," Steinmetz wrote.

Ford has been discussing with the United Auto Workers union the possibility of offering buyouts and early-retirement packages to all of its hourly workers. So far, Ford has offered packages mainly to workers at plants that it plans to close.

The company expects about 12,000 hourly workers to leave this year through the packages and normal attrition.

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