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Old 07-24-2002, 10:19   #1 (permalink)
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Financial problems may force Ford to delay Ranger redesign again

By MARY CONNELLY
AND AMY WILSON
Automotive News

DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co., struggling to erase red ink, is considering delaying a redesign of the Ranger small pickup until at least the 2008 model year, according to sources familiar with the program.

Originally, Ford planned to redesign the Ranger and move it to a wider platform for the 2003 model year.

Last year, Ford delayed the redesign until the 2006 model year. Now, another postponement is possible, though a final decision has not been made, sources said.

Ford is grappling to overcome a $5.45 billion loss in 2001. Last week, Ford CFO Allan Gilmour said the company is six months behind in its plan to trim $3 billion from material costs by mid-decade.

Despite the financial problems, the company says new product is key to its turnaround. So Ford is trying to prevent product delays and cut costs elsewhere, Gilmour said at a press conference last week.

Spokesman Mike Vaughn declined to comment on Ford's plans for the Ranger. The Ranger's last major redesign came in 1993.

More delays for the Ranger redesign would hurt because Ford's competitors are forging ahead with fresh small pickups.

In the 2004 model year, Chevrolet will replace the S10 with the Colorado, which General Motors calls a mid-sized pickup. GMC also will sell a version, (see story on Page 6) called the Canyon. Dodge's redesigned Dakota bows for the 2004 model year. The Nissan Frontier will be redesigned for the 2005 model year.

The Ranger is the top-selling small pickup in the U.S. market. But 2002 sales through June were off 25 percent, compared with the year-ago period.

Ford sold 113,814 Rangers in six months in 2002, compared with the S10 at 82,558 units and the Toyota Tacoma at 75,699 units.

Ford acknowledges a massive task in getting its product development and vehicle launch practices back on track. "Our product launch performance has moved from unsatisfactory to pretty good with further to go," Gilmour said last week.

Ford planned to begin building the new 2003 Lincoln Aviator sport-utility in September. Production may be delayed to resolve basic engineering issues, Gilmour said last week, though he did not provide specifics.

The launch of the 2003 Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator has been marred.

"The physical launch of the Expedition and Navigator was good but not great," Gilmour said. "We had to hold some at the plant for too long. We had some fixes to get done."
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