updated 4/21/2006 10:59:21 AM ET 2006-04-21T14:59:21

Ford Motor Co. said Friday it lost $1.2 billion in the first quarter, its worst performance in more than four years, as revenues fell and the nation’s second-biggest automaker started a massive and costly North American restructuring effort.

The loss of 64 cents per share for the January-March period compares to a profit of $1.2 billion, or 60 cents per share, a year earlier. Sales fell 9 percent to $41.1 billion from $45.1 billion a year ago.

Ford said its results included a pretax charge of $1.7 billion, or 61 cents per share, for costs associated with its Way Forward restructuring plan, which calls for cutting up to 30,000 jobs and closing 14 facilities by 2012. The charge includes the costs of layoffs and buyouts and pay for hourly workers whose plants have been idled.

Excluding one-time special items such as restructuring charges, Ford said it earned $458 million, or 24 cents per share.

It was Ford’s worst quarterly performance since the fourth quarter of 2001, when the company posted a $5.07 billion loss due to $4.1 billion in costs for a previous restructuring plan. In the first quarter of 2002, Ford posted a $1.1 billion loss.

Ford’s North American automotive unit, which has been struggling with declining sales and high fixed costs, reported a pretax loss of $2.9 billion in the first quarter, including one-time items. Ford said that was primarily due to lower sales, increased incentives, acceleration of charges related to plant closings and losses at former Visteon Corp. plants now under the control of a Ford-managed entity.

Worldwide, Ford’s automotive operations lost $2.7 billion before taxes, compared with a profit of $473 million a year ago. That included $2.5 billion in one-time special items such as restructuring charges. Ford sold 1.7 million vehicles worldwide, up 3 percent from a year ago.

Ford’s financial arm, Ford Motor Credit Co., earned $479 million for the quarter, down 33 percent from $710 million a year ago. The division said higher borrowing costs due to Ford’s junk credit rating was partly to blame.

“While we are not satisfied with our performance, particularly a loss in North America automotive, we are encouraged by the success in our global operations and at the Ford Motor Credit Company,” Chairman and Chief Executive Bill Ford said in a statement. “We have said we intend to restore automotive profitability in North America by no later than 2008 and we remain committed to deliver on our promise.”

The Dearborn-based automaker’s results were in stark contrast to its bigger crosstown rival General Motors Corp., which reported record quarterly revenues and a smaller loss for the quarter on Thursday. GM lost $323 million for the quarter versus a loss of $1.3 billion the previous year. GM has begun its own North American restructuring after losing $10.6 billion last year.

Bill Ford said Ford is in the very early stages of a dramatic change.

“This transformation isn’t going to be quick and it isn’t going to be painless,” he said. “It involves risks and the financial rewards won’t be immediate. But in the end, I believe we’ll get there.”

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