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CNBC Exclusive: Detroit CEOs Confident of Turnaround

The top executives of Detroit's Big Three automakers expressed confidence in their turnaround plans and said their new car offerings would lure drivers back to showrooms.

In a series of exclusive interviews with CNBC at the Detroit Auto Show, the chief executives of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler Group told Phil Lebeau that the current restructuring plans could stem some of the losses Detroit has been facing in recent years.

Ford Motor is still on track to make money in 2009 and expects 2007 to be a turnaround, Ford chief executive Alan Mullaly told LeBeau on "Squawk Box."

In a separate interview, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner said his company expects improved operating results and lower cash outflow, but couldn't say GM will be cash-flow positive.

And Chrysler's fourth-quarter loss will be narrower than the previous quarter's and the company plans to announce a broad restructuring plan at the end of February, Chrysler Group CEO Tom Lasorda said.

Chrysler's third-quarter loss of $1.5 billion was "a pretty big loss and obviously that won't be repeated in the fourth quarter, that size," Lasorda said.

No Alliance for Ford

Ford is not interested in an alliance with another major automaker, Mulally said, calling his recent visit with Toyota executives as an attempt to get to know all the global industry leaders.

After registering huge losses in 2006, Ford expects to still struggle financially in the first half of 2007, but will perform better in the latter half of the year as restructuring starts to kick in, Mulally added.

The company is confronting the reality of higher fuel costs and focusing on cars as well as its market-leading pickup trucks, he added.

GM New Product Sales

While confident of improved results this year, GM faced a big hurdle in being cash-flow positive this year, namely health-care costs, Wagoner said. GM is at a $4 billion to $5 billion health-care disadvantage compared to its competitors, Reuters reported.

The company will be relying on new products to drive sales this year, predicting 40% of retail volume to be newly-launched products, compared to 30% last year, Wagoner said.

"The economy is more lukewarm than red hot, but we think we can drive the revenue side of the business," he said.

GM is also unwilling to cede the title of No. 1 automaker by sales to Toyota just yet, Wagoner added, saying that he believes the company could keep the sales title and be profitable at the same time.

Chrysler Restructuring

Chrysler will be looking at a range of issues for its restructuring plan, including revenues, capacity and headcount, Lasorda said.

But staff reductions will not be close to size of those of Ford and General Motors, nor 2000 and 2001, when Chrysler went through a restructuring that ultimately cut its work force from 126,500 to the current 82,500, according to the Associated Press.

About 38,000 Ford hourly workers have signed up to take buyout or early retirement offers, and 34,000 unionized workers at GM have decided to take similar packages.
Lasorda also said that while has the confidence of DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche, any CEO that doesn't deliver the numbers is on the "hot seat," and he will be working to address problems seen in 2006 like inventory issues and poor dealer relations.

The automaker will also look to continue its dominance of the minivan market this year, Lasorda said, calling minivans "the foundation for the Chrysler Group."

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