DETROIT (AP) – With orders to turn out cutting-edge cars and trucks faster than ever, Ford Motor Co.’s top designers see a conflict between their mission and the struggling company’s plans to slash its white-collar work force by 14,000 people.

Inevitably some of those who leave under company buyout and early retirement offers will be designers, but Peter Horbury, executive director of design for the Americas, has a plan.

“Fewer people doing more designs in less time,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press yesterday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Across the company, Ford managers aren’t quite certain how the loss of 36 percent of all salaried workers will affect its operations. With offers on the table and a Feb. 19 final deadline for sign ups, no one really knows for sure how many people will retire early from each department, although managers can limit the number taking buyouts if necessary. Ford isn’t releasing numbers on how many have accepted offers so far.

No matter how many people leave, for Horbury and his boss, J Mays, it means taking advantage of every timesaving method they know. Chief among them is greater use of computer-aided design to reduce the number of clay models and prototypes they build. It also means having designers take part in researching customer wants and needs from the beginning, before cars are designed, to cut down the number of changes.

Previously the company did market research after cars were designed, asking consumers how they liked the headlamps and other features, said Mays, Ford’s vice president of design and chief creative officer.

Ford has mortgaged its assets to borrow up to $23.4 billion to fund a massive restructuring plan and cover billions in losses expected until 2009. The company, which lost $7 billion in the first nine months of last year, expects to spend $17 billion in cash during the next two years.

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