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Wheels fall off at Ford

John Dimsdale Jan 25, 2007

TESS VIGELAND:You gotta wonder what Henry Ford must be thinking from beyond the grave. The chassis has fallen out of the car company he founded 103 years ago.

Today, Ford Motor Company announced it lost an average $35 million per day last year. Including Sundays and holidays. The total loss was a vertigo-inducing $12.7 billion.

Not only is that far and away Ford’s worst-ever performance, it surpasses the previous record loss of $10.6 billion set by GM in 2005.

We asked our John Dimsdale to wade through the gallons of red ink it’ll take to print Ford’s annual report.

JOHN DIMSDALE: About the best thing you can say is most of last year’s losses were one time, restructuring expenses. The company’s in the process of shutting down 16 factories and buying out 44,000 workers by 2012.

But many car industry analysts aren’t seeing better sales in Ford’s future.

REBECCA LINDLAND: We don’t have a really good, strong idea of what their future product plans look like.

That’s Global Insight’s Rebecca Lindland.

LINDLAND: I’ll talk to other analysts and we look at their future product line-up and say, “Do you have anything? Cause we don’t have anything.” Anything exciting. And we don’t really see a redesign that’s gonna be able to re-energize the company.

Another cloud on Ford’s horizon: the United Auto Workers will renegotiate contracts with all three of Detroit’s car makers this summer. Ford will be asking for more sacrifices of its rank and file workers. But it’s also due to pay long-delayed bonuses to keep talented white collar workers from leaving.

There are rumblings of a labor strike if Ford sweetens executive compensation. But David Cole of the Center for Automotive Research thinks those are empty threats.

DAVID COLE: You have to walk that tightrope between keeping labor happy and not appearing to overcompensate your salaried people. But I think that the level of mutual fear here is high enough that it will bring everybody together.

Plus, union clout in the auto business continues to decline. The Labor Department reported today that the number of unionized workers in manufacturing overall last year was 9 percent lower than in 2005. Only 1 in 14 private sector workers is a union member.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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