February 27, 2009 at 1:00 am

Ford cuts sales forecast, but won't seek aid

Idled Cleveland plant to be revived amid plan to reduce output; no plans to seek fed loans.

Employee John Baisden works at the Cleveland No. 1 plant, expected this spring to be back online producing the EcoBoost engine, slated to be offered in most Ford vehicles by 2013. (Ford)

Ford Motor Co. cut its U.S. auto sales forecast for 2009 by another million vehicles Thursday, but continued to insist it does not need federal assistance to survive.

The Dearborn automaker now expects U.S. car and truck sales to fall as low as 10.5 million units, citing a deepening economic crisis and the government's failure to free up the nation's credit markets, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Ford also said it would cut first-quarter production estimates for the automaker by another 25,000 units -- just weeks after reducing the overall figure to 400,000 vehicles.

Ford's new industry sales forecast matches the worst-case scenario the automaker outlined in a restructuring plan it submitted to Congress last fall. At the time, Ford said that if sales fell to that level, it could need up to $13 billion from Washington. However, Ford said Thursday that it can withstand an even steeper drop -- to 9.2 million cars and trucks -- without needing federal aid.

"Our position on government loans hasn't changed at all," said Ford spokesman Mark Truby, noting that Congress had asked the company to state how much additional funding it might need in each scenario. "That doesn't mean we would ask the government for that. We have no plans to ask for a bridge loan."

Ford rivals General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC have received $17.4 billion in federal loans and are asking lawmakers for an additional $21.6 billion to avoid bankruptcy.

Despite Ford's deteriorating forecast, the company is expected to announce today that it is bringing its Cleveland Engine Plant No. 1 back online this spring to produce the new EcoBoost engine that is the backbone of the company's short-term powertrain strategy.

The Cleveland factory, which opened in 1951, was idled in 2007 -- three years after Ford invested $200 million to transform it into a flexible manufacturing facility. That flexibility has allowed the company to produce the new engine there with an investment of $55 million.

EcoBoost combines turbo-charging and direct fuel-injection to deliver more power from a smaller engine. It will be offered in the Lincoln MKS sedan, MKT crossover, Ford Flex crossover and Taurus SHO sport sedan this year, and is expected to be available in 90 percent of the company's lineup by 2013.

The announcement will be good news for some 250 hourly workers who are being assigned to the new assembly line, many of them from the company's jobs bank. That controversial program, which provides wages and benefits to idled factory workers, would be eliminated if blue-collar employees ratify a tentative agreement announced this week between the company and the United Auto Workers that calls for concessions to help Ford cut costs.

"It will give them a more secure future," said Mike Gammella, president of UAW Local 1250, which represents workers at Ford's Cleveland manufacturing complex. "We want to be a big part of Ford's future."

Jan Allman, who manages the Cleveland complex for Ford, praised the UAW for its willingness to make important compromises to its local contract on work rules and other issues to ensure the new engine can be produced profitably.

"They have worked very collaboratively with us to deliver a very competitive agreement," she told The Detroit News. "We're delivering good news in the middle of this industry turmoil.

You can reach Bryce Hoffman at (313) 222-2443 or bhoffman@detnews.com">bhoffman@detnews.com.