Sixteen hundred workers at the Ford plant in St. Paul will be furloughed for three weeks this autumn as the company cuts production of the Ranger pickup truck, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Rob McKenzie, president of United Auto Workers Local 879, told the news agency that supervisors at the plant distributed letters to employees on Thursday confirming layoffs for one week starting October 4, and for two weeks starting November 15.

The three-week shutdown affects about 1,600 workers, he reportedly said, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether managers and supervisors would be included.

AP noted that Ford released a dismal monthly sales report earlier this week showing a drop across all Ford brands except Volvo. The small Ranger truck [an ageing design struggling in the face of newer rivals from Chevrolet, Dodge, Toyota and Nissan], suffered the steepest drop of the Ford brands in August, with sales falling about 47% from 23,438 trucks to 12,510.

Across all of its vehicle lines, Ford announced that it would cut fourth production to 830,000, down from 900,000 during the same period last year.

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That Ranger sales are weak is hardly a surprise, the Associated Press noted, adding that Ford’s top sales analyst, George Pipas, said the small pickup market peaked in the US in 1986, and has been falling ever since as customers migrate to full-size trucks like Ford’s F-series.

Pipas reportedly declined to comment on the furloughs reported by the union. He said the company reports operating plans one week in advance, but not more.

According to the Associated Press, Pipas said sales of all makes of compact trucks in the US are running about 10% below last year. Sales of Ford’s popular big F-series truck, by contrast, rose 15% in August, from 73,698 trucks last year to 84,996.

AP noted that Ford has already shut its other Ranger plant in New Jersey and consolidated production in St. Paul. Ford also shifted production of the [similar, Ranger-based] Mazda B-series compact truck to the plant this summer, investing $US28 million in retooling the facility.