FRANKFURT - Stephen T. Odell, the chief executive of Ford's European operations, is among those who welcome the new rhetorical emphasis on economic growth over budget cutting by the region's political leaders.
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Frank Augstein/Associated Press
A worker fixes a Ford Fiesta at a production line in Cologne, Germany.
"It took a long time for them to get to the view we need a balance of austerity and growth," Mr. Odell said by telephone this week.
Through nimble production methods and well-regarded products, Ford has been able to avoid most of the woes that have beset its archrival General Motors and its Opel unit in Europe. Such woes include years of eye-popping losses, plunging market share and noisy labor discord.
Nevertheless, Ford presents a vivid example of how difficult it is to manage a car company in Europe these days. The European debt crisis and widespread regional recession have sapped the buying power of middle-class Europeans who should be Ford's best customers.
After slipping to a loss in Europe at the end of 2011, Ford is expected to report Friday another big shortfall from its European operations that could tarnish overall results. Barclays Capital estimates the first-quarter loss will be $199 million in Europe, after a loss of $190 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. That will help pull Ford's global profit down by about half, to $1.34 billion, according to analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
Ford has already reported a plunge in West European sales during the first quarter. The number of vehicles sold fell 7.3 percent from January through March, to 325,400, slightly less than the decline in the overall market. The numbers released Friday will indicate how those weak sales numbers translate to the bottom line.
Ford sales suffered, even though models like the Fiesta and Focus are well regarded. But the company has ably defended its market share and analysts say its manufacturing is flexible and efficient.
"It has done very well to contain costs, and the products are pretty good," said Peter Wells, co-director of the Center for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff University in Wales. "But they can't escape the overall trend."
The European economic crisis has been particularly harsh on the middle-class drivers who make up the core market for Ford, as well as for other midrange European carmakers like Fiat, Renault or PSA Peugeot Citroën.
Some categories of buyers have been practically wiped out. In Spain, for example, every second young person is unemployed, depressing the supply of first-time buyers for models like the Ford Ka, a small four-seater, or the Fiesta compact, which is by far Ford's best-selling model in Europe.
Europe's overall car market has shrunk significantly since 2007. Then, West Europeans purchased 18 million cars. Last year, they bought 15.3 million. Those declines are inevitably hurting profits.
Ford's problems in Europe are nowhere near as severe as those of General Motors and its Opel unit. G.M., after losing $747 million on its European operations last year, the 12th straight year of losses in Europe, is widely speculated to be considering shutting a factory, possibly the Opel plant in Bochum, Germany.
So far, there is no sign that Ford will have to take such drastic steps. Opel has already found that such measures almost inevitably generate strife with labor unions and produce damaging headlines. But Ford, with 47,000 workers in Europe, has more manufacturing capacity than it needs and is making cuts at its 14 factories.
Already, the company has switched to a four-day work week at a plant in Genk, Belgium, and plans to shut down its plant in Valencia, Spain, for a total of 39 days this year. The downtime will also be used to change over production from the Fiesta compact to the Kuga compact S.U.V. The Kuga is more akin than the Fiesta to C-Max vans and other vehicles made at the Spanish plant, allowing for more efficiency, Ford said.
In Cologne, the headquarters of Ford's European operations, workers will be putting in fewer hours. At a plant in Debenham, Britain, Ford did not renew the contracts of 75 temporary workers.
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