DETROIT – Ford Motor Co.'s (F) board this week is expected to review parts of a restructuring plan that aims to revive the automaker's ailing North American vehicle operations, a source familiar with the situation said on Monday.
The No. 2 automaker has said it would unveil in January a turnaround plan for its largest market, dubbed "Way Forward," which Chief Executive Bill Ford Jr. has said would include "significant plant closings."
Ford's board of directors will begin a two-day meeting on Wednesday.
The turnaround plan will likely contain the shuttering of at least four assembly plants and a dozen parts facilities in the region, said David Cole, chairman of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research.
"It's matter of very high urgency that they do this," Cole said. "They desperately need to contract the size of the company."
Ford's executive vice president in charge of its Americas operations Mark Fields -- who is drafting the strategy along with the Chief Operating Officer of Americas Anne Stevens -- told employees on Friday in an e-mail that the restructuring plan is not yet final.
The "Way Forward" plan will also include strategies to increase the appeal of Ford brands and strengthen the automaker's product line-up, Fields said in an earlier e-mail to employees.
"The plan is in development," said Ford spokesman Oscar Suris, reiterating that it will be announced in January.
He declined to comment on the board's agenda.
Like General Motors Corp. (GM), Ford has seen its margins squeezed by soaring health-care and raw material costs, and a decline in U.S. market share. So far this year, Ford's North American unit has lost over $1.4 billion before taxes.
Ford's U.S. sales have fallen in all but two of the last 18 months. The company's sales fell 18 percent in November.
GM said in November that it would cut 30,000 jobs through 2008 and close 12 facilities to reduce excess capacity.
Ford said last month it planned to eliminate 4,000 salaried jobs, or 10 percent of its North American white-collar work force, as part of the plan.
The assembly plants that are likely to be shuttered by Ford are the facilities in St. Louis; Atlanta; St. Paul, Minn.; and Cuatitlan, Mexico, Cole said.
The company's Atlanta plant makes the Taurus sedan, slated to be phased out in early 2006. No new products have been announced for that plant.
Ford's St. Louis assembly plant, which makes the Explorer and Mountaineer SUVs, is down to one shift.
Ford launched a multiyear restructuring program in 2002 that included 35,000 job cuts, seven North American plant closings and elimination of unprofitable models.
"Cost cutting alone won't return North American automotive operations to profitability," GimmeCredit analyst Craig Hutson said in a note on Monday.
"Ford must design and manufacture vehicles that consumers want to purchase without huge incentives," Hutson said.