Ford delays launch of new F-150

Big pick-up sales are hit by high gas prices and reduced construction spending. Automaker also expects more production cutbacks.

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By Peter Valdes-Dapena, staff writer

2009 Ford F-150

NEW YORK ( -- With sales of full-size pickups in a steep decline, Ford Motor Co. said Friday it is delaying the launch of its new, redesigned Ford F-150 pick-up by two months.

The full-size pick-up, which had been due to enter showrooms in early fall will now come out in late fall, instead.

Ford also announced more production cutbacks. The company said it will produce 25% fewer vehicles in the third quarter of this year than it did in the same quarter of 2007. The cuts will be among Ford's large trucks and SUVs.

Meanwhile, Ford said it is working to boost production of its small cars and crossover SUVs, products that have been attracting more sales this year even as overall auto sales have dropped.

The Ford F-series has been the top-selling passenger vehicle in America for 26 straight years. Big pickups have been a popular and profitable item for Detroit Automakers. But high gas prices and a declining home-construction market have hit truck sales hard.

In May, the F-series fell to fifth place for the month as the Honda Civic compact car became America's best-selling model, followed by the Toyota Camry. General Motors' (GM, Fortune 500) Chevrolet Silverado, usually a second-place seller behind the F-150, ranked sixth.

Overall sales of full-sized trucks like the F-150 are 23% lower this year than they were by this time last year, according to market analyst Power Information Network.

"Our plan all along has been to introduce the new F-150 after our dealers had a chance to sell down inventory of the existing model, and - with the current slowdown in the marketplace - we decided it was prudent to adjust the start of public sale for the new truck by about two months," Mark Fields, Ford's President of The Americas said in a statement.

Despite all this, when 2008 comes to a close, the F-series could still be number one in sales for the year, said Tom Libby, an analyst with Power Information Network.

"This is a very important model for Ford," said Libby. "Ford will do whatever it takes to protect that model."

That could mean aggressive incentives as the automaker tries to clear out 2008 trucks and keep its sales crown.

George Pipas, a sales analyst for Ford denied that the company is at all concerned with ranking. "If we were going to do whatever it takes, why would we do what we did today?" he asked.

Ford cut F-series truck production by 40% as of today, he pointed out. Meanwhile, the Toyota Camry mid-size car is just 37,000 sales behind it so far this year and closing in fast. That's close enough to easily take the top spot by the end of the year, said Pipas.

"We're going to do whatever it takes to meet the market," he said.

Ford (F, Fortune 500) said it would further cut large SUV and truck production for the remainder of 2008. The cuts will be made through additional downtime, shift reductions and slowing assembly line speeds.

At the same time, Ford reiterated that is taking steps to more quickly boost production of small, fuel-efficient cars.

"We sell some of the best smaller cars and utility vehicles in the world in our profitable European and South American operations, and our plan is to introduce these same vehicles in North America as quickly as possible," said Alan Mulally, Ford's president and chief executive, in a statement.

Ford will increase production at plants that make the Lincoln MKX, Ford Edge, Mercury Mariner and Ford Escape crossover SUVs, as well at plants producing the Ford Focus compact car.

The automaker says it will reduce overall third-quarter production by a further 50,000 vehicles. It now plans to produce 475,000 vehicles, 25% fewer than the third quarter of last year.

Fourth-quarter production will drop 8 to 14% compared with the same quarter last year.

The company also said Friday it expects industry-wide U.S. sales this year to drop to a range of 14.7 million to 15.2 million units. The company previously had predicted 15 million to 15.4 million units.

Ford does not expect to be profitable until some time after 2009, the company confirmed in its announcement. To top of page

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