November 22, 2005

Ford Seeks U.S. Help to Make Fuel-Efficient Cars

WASHINGTON -- Ford Motor Co. chief executive Bill Ford said on Tuesday U.S. auto companies remain the foundation of the industry despite their problems, and called on Congress to provide tax credits and other incentives to help drive development of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Ford, who planned to meet with White House officials later in the day on his ideas to lessen consumer dependence on foreign oil, also said he would not accelerate the time frame for announcing the company's domestic cost cuts even though rival General Motors unveiled its cost-savings strategy on Monday.

"We're not going to be ready until January," Ford said after laying out his energy agenda to a business group at the National Press Club.

Ford sought to boost the confidence of the U.S. auto industry, which has been shaken this year by tenacious overseas competition, soaring gasoline costs, and deepening financial problems.

"Despite recent announcements, our domestic auto manufacturers are still the foundation of the auto industry in this country," Ford said.

"We still employ nearly 90 percent of the workers in our industry. We still manufacture 75 percent of the cars and trucks made in America. We purchase 80 percent of all U.S. auto parts," he said.

GM said on Monday it would cut 30,000 manufacturing jobs and close all or part of a dozen plants in the United States and Canada to save $7 billion by the end of 2006.

Ford, the No. 2 automaker behind GM, also plans to close plants and cut jobs, but Bill Ford would not discuss details when asked by reporters to do so.

"It's more than downsizing. It's really a way forward," Ford said. "There is an element of structure that we have to reduce -- not just in the plants, but in the entire North American operations."

U.S. automakers have been wrangling with high health care, pension and other costs as market share shrinks to foreign competitors and sales of core products, like large sport utility vehicles, slump amid high gas prices.

Ford announced last week that it would cut 4,000 white-collar jobs, or about 10 percent of its salaried North American work force.

In September, Bill Ford asked President George W. Bush to hold a summit with automakers and related companies to explore strategies for saving energy.

"If we don't adapt to a changing market and shifts in consumer demand then, like any business, we deserve to suffer the consequences," Ford said.

Ford on Tuesday called for Congress to increase research and development tax credits for companies working on alternative fuels and consider tax incentives to help manufacturers convert outmoded plants into high-tech facilities.

He also recommended that governments at all levels consider fleets powered only by gas-electric hybrid technology or other alternatives by 2010.

The automaker plans to accelerate its production of hybrid and ethanol powered vehicles over the next several years.


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