Ford Aims to Cut Global Workforce Roughly 10% -- Update

By Christina Rogers Features Dow Jones Newswires

Ford Motor Co. is planning substantial cuts to its global workforce amid Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields drive to boost profits and address the auto maker's sliding stock price, according to people briefed on the plan.

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The move comes as Ford targets $3 billion in cost cuts for 2017, a plan aimed at improving profitability in 2018 even as U.S. auto sales plateau. Ford's share price has suffered during Mr. Fields's three-year tenure, and the company's market value has slipped far behind Tesla Inc. and General Motors Co.

The job cuts, expected to be outlined as early as this week, largely target salaried employees and aim to reduce the global head count by an equivalent of about 10%, these people said. It is unclear if the plan includes cuts to the hourly workforce at Ford's U.S. factories and plants that are abroad.

"We remain focused on the three strategic priorities that will create value and drive profitable growth, which include fortifying the profit pillars in our core business, transforming traditionally underperforming areas of our core business and investing aggressively, but prudently, in emerging opportunities," Ford said in a statement.

"Reducing costs and becoming as lean and efficient as possible also remain part of that work. We have not announced any new people efficiency actions, nor do we comment on speculation," the company said.

Ford has 200,000 employees globally, half of which work in North America. Deep cuts in the U.S. could trigger political backlash due to the role the auto industry played during the campaign and early tenure of President Donald Trump.

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Mr. Trump pressured Ford to pull back on Mexico production and invest in U.S. factories. Ford committed to scrap a Mexican factory that had been under construction until earlier this year. The company will add 700 jobs in Michigan with money saved in Mexico.

Mr. Fields last week faced heightened scrutiny from board members and investors who have long complained about Ford's sluggish stock performance in an era of record profitability.

Ford has launched into a series of new technology investments under Mr. Fields, including a $4.5 billion electric-vehicle program and an aggressive autonomous-car project. While both programs could contribute to Ford's longer-term prospects, the spending erodes profit margins at a time when sales of lucrative pickups and sport utilities remain strong.

The auto maker's stock price has fallen nearly 40% since Mr. Fields became CEO in mid-2014. Shares have fallen even as the broader U.S. auto market has grown for seven straight years. Now, as volumes stabilize, executives are turning to downsizing moves that were necessary a decade ago.

While Mr. Fields worked to ease political tensions, he hasn't been able to answer investor concerns about Ford's ability to weather a downturn or find new sources of revenue. The Dearborn, Mich., auto maker has booked substantial profits in recent years, including delivering two consecutive years of record earnings, but its market value sunk below electric-car maker Tesla Inc. earlier this year.

Now, Ford is guiding to leaner profits in 2017 and has flagged slowing sales in the U.S. and China -- two of the world's largest auto markets.

Ford has been steadily expanding both its salaried and unionized workforce since the financial crisis. While many employees have been added to support higher volumes and expansion in global markets, Mr. Fields has also been hiring to support new technology ventures that fall outside of the company's core business of building and selling cars.

These new projects include a unit called Ford Smart Mobility LLC, and an expanding presence in Silicon Valley where several tech giants are rushing forward with car-sharing ventures, driverless cars and other future mobility experiments. Ford in February, announced it would acquire artificial-intelligence startup Argo AI with plans to invest $1 billion over the next five years to expand the firm.

Write to Christina Rogers at christina.rogers@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 15, 2017 21:53 ET (01:53 GMT)