Ford's loss in Europe brings into relief concerns voiced at this month's Detroit motor show, where the debt crisis cast a shadow over an industry rebounding from recession.  (Photo: ANDREW ENGLISH)

America's second-biggest car-maker racked up a European operating loss of $190m (£121m) in the final three months of the year, more than triple the loss in the same quarter of 2010.

That left Ford's group profits for the fourth quarter trailing Wall Street's estimates, driving the company's shares down 3pc at $12.38 in early U.S. trading.

Ford's loss in Europe brings into relief concerns the car industry voiced at this month's Detroit car show, where the debt crisis cast a shadow over an industry rebounding from the recession.

America is again proving a key engine of growth for the industry, and Ford said that its operating profit in the U.S. climbed 33pc to $889m in the fourth quarter.

"We saw the external environment deteriorate, and that really affected most regions other than North America," said Lewis Booth, Ford's chief financial officer.

Europe, though, was not the only headwind that Ford confronted in the quarter.

Severe flooding in Thailand contributed to an $83m loss that the company recorded in Asia and Africa, more than reversing the $23m profit it made in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Ford also spent more on key commodities such as steel, with its bill for the year reaching $2.3bn — higher than the $2.2bn in had forecast.

Ford's concerns over Europe mean the company will produce fewer vehicles in the first quarter compared with last year.

Of the 1.4m cars and trucks it plans to produce this quarter, 675,000 will be in North America — a slight increase from last year.

Europe, South America and Asia will all see cutbacks in production.

Mr Booth, who is one of the most powerful Britons in the industry, said that Ford's Asian operations will be profitable this year.

He declined to give a forecast for its European business.

"Europe is a very challenging business environment," Mr Booth said.

Stephen Odell, who runs Ford's European operations, said earlier this month that there are pockets of strength for the industry in Europe, such as Germany, but added that regions such as Spain and Greece remain very weak.

He said it was too early to call how the UK market would perform.

Despite the still uncertain economic backdrop, Ford is investing in new models.

The carmaker introduced a new version of the best-selling Ford Fusion at the show in Detroit.

In the U.S., Ford is betting that the continuing revamp of its Lincoln range can eat into the commanding lead that European rivals Mercedes-Benz and BMW enjoy in the lucrative luxury part of the market.

After enjoying an 11pc rise in sales in the U.S. last year, Ford and the rest of the industry will be hoping that the U.S. economy can at least sustain the momentum it showed in the final quarter of 2011 for the rest of this year.

Ford's overall operating profits for the fourth quarter slipped to $1.1bn from $1.3bn in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Sales rose 6.5pc to $34.6bn in the quarter.

Net income, meanwhile, soared to $13.6bn in the quarter from $190m because of a one-time accounting gain.

Full-year profits were $20.2bn, up from $13.7bn in 2010, on revnues 13pc higher at $136.3bn.

Shares in Ford, which avoided the U.S. taxpayer rescue that rivals General Motors and Chrysler were forced to take in 2009, tumbled 36pc last year as investors' concerns over Europe overshadowed a strengthening recovery in the U.S. market.

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