DETROIT – Chrysler Group has cut the size of its ranks by 35,000 workers since it began its turnaround plan in 2000, CEO Dieter Zetsche tells financial analysts.

The auto maker originally set a target to reduce its payroll by 25,000 as part of the plan.

Within the last 12 months, the workforce has been trimmed by 5,000 employees, Chrysler says.

“We are well on our way to have higher efficiencies as far as headcount…is concerned,” says Zetsche. “We are below 1996 (employment) levels at this number.”

Zetsche refuses to rule out further job reductions as the auto maker moves forward with plans to boost efficiency on its way to the goal of being tops in automotive productivity by 2007.

“We are planning a 6% productivity gain per year, which has en effect on employment,” he says. “On the other hand…we are planning for volume growth, and the balance of that will determine what happens.”