Ford Motor Co. detailed this week a $3 billion cost-cutting goal for 1991 that includes early buyouts and possible layoffs for its salaried workers and the suspension of merit pay for top managers.

"Over the past few months, we've been taking additional actions to reduce costs," Ford Chairman Harold A. Poling told employees. "But the volume decline since the latter part of 1990 has made it clear that even more actions are required."While sources say the nation's No. 2 automaker may reduce its salaried work force 20 percent over the next several years, company spokesman Dick Routh insisted there are no specific goals in reducing the ranks of Ford's 140,000 salaried workers worldwide, including 52,000 in the United States.

"Each organization is reviewing what it needs to do on cost cutting, " Routh said. "There is no company-wide target or a quantity."

But if the number of workers who choose early retirment buyouts is not sufficient, Routh conceded that "the next step may be the more painful part of the plan, and that may be layoffs."

Ford, which lost more than half a billion dollars during the fourth quarter of 1990, is expected to bleed more red ink for this quarter. It has already carved about $1.5 billion from its costs.

Both General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp. have also implemented aggressive cost-cutting measures because of weak sales due to the recession and Persian Gulf conflict.

Ford's overall $3 billion goal had been set well into last year and does not represent a raised target. "We just wanted to get this out in front of our employees and shareholders," Routh said.

Poling, noting that employees have already foregone profit sharing or bonuses this year, said Ford would focus on reducing the ongoing costs of the company, while limiting the direct effect such actions may have on workers.