NEW YORK – Mark Fields, Ford Motor Co.’s president-The Americas and the man leading the auto maker’s Way Forward restructuring program, says he is “pleased with the progress” of the 2-month old program so far.

“But it remains a long journey,” he says of the program rolled out in January. “It’s like rewiring a house with the electricity on.”

Fields points to the slowdown in Ford’s market-share erosion as evidence the company is heading in the right direction.

“Let me be clear about this. We don’t like to lose market share,” he says. “(But) slowing the rate of decline is a first step.”

Saying you can’t cost-cut your way to prosperity, Fields says Ford is investing in new product, including performance vehicles through its Specialty Vehicle Team (SVT) operation.

Under SVT, there will be one performance Mustang and one performance truck in the lineup going forward, he says, one of the three tiers in Ford’s approach to performance that includes what Fields calls “personalized performance” vehicles and its racing programs.

Fields didn’t say when the SVT truck would bow. The auto maker earlier pulled back on plans for an F-Series Lightning pickup, as well as the Sport Trac and Adrenalin. But he says each of the two planned SVT models should sell in the 5,000- to 10,000-unit range annually.

“Performance vehicles make stronger brands,” Fields says. “So they’re a big part of the Way Forward.”

The Ford exec also says suggestions the auto maker could lose its position atop the light-truck market are off base. Sales of the F-Series, he says, will top 900,000 units in 2006, the third year in a row it has reached that mark.

“That’s 3,000 units every business day over the past three years,” he says.

The F-150 FX2 sport truck, a monochromatic, 2-wheel-drive pickup to be launched in the fall, should account for 5% of F-Series sales, Fields says.

Fields spoke at the unveiling here of the special-edition Shelby GT-H Mustang Ford that Carroll Shelby will produce for The Hertz Corp.

Shelby will build the cars at a Las Vegas-area plant. Once Hertz is finished with the rental cars, they will be sold to collectors through auctions or via Ford dealers, the auto maker says.

dzoia@wardsauto.com