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Ford to shed 38,000 workers

Ford's hourly work force is shrinking to half its current size, following the announcement Wednesday that 38,000 hourly workers have agreed to accept early retirement or buyout packages this year.

That still might not be enough to revive the nation's second-largest automaker, however, which is contracting in the face of multibillion-dollar losses and fierce competition. Now, say analysts, Ford Motor Co. needs to rekindle interest in its cars and reclaim some market share lost to Asian rivals.

"They've got to learn how to build a product that is acceptable in the market at a good price," Turnaround specialist Jim McTevia, of McTevia & Associates in Bingham Farms, said. "They've got to build it economically and they've got to sell it economically."

Ford had expected 25,000 to 30,000 workers to sign up during an open enrollment period that expired Monday. The new reduction figure would amount to nearly 46 percent of the 83,000 unionized employees that Ford had at the start of the year.

That will eventually save Ford about $5-billion a year, but it still has a long way to go and more painful measures to take before it's financially sound.

Ford lost $7-billion in the first nine months of the year. And it is losing money on a daily basis. The Dearborn-based automaker said Wednesday it expects to burn through $17-billion in cash from 2007 to 2009.

Ford's share of the domestic market has declined from about 26 percent in the early 1990s to 17.6 percent at the end of October. In July, Ford sold fewer vehicles in the U.S. than Toyota Motor Corp. for the first time, but Ford's U.S. sales have surpassed the Japanese company since then.

As for the current round of buyouts, while workers can change their minds and back out of the deals, company officials predicted only a single-digit percentage would do so before their package takes effect.

Those who accepted the buyout packages will begin to leave the company in January, with the window open until Sept. 1, 2007, the company said.

Ford is also offering packages to 10,000 white-collar workers, with further unspecified reductions in 2009. The eight packages offered to hourly employees range from $35,000 to $140,000.