Chrysler Corp. should guard against cutting key people as it trims its white-collar work force with early retirement and voluntary termination deals, auto analysts say.

"It's always a concern who is cut, particularly in the engineering staff where you have to be so careful," said Mary Anne Sudol, an analyst with Fitch Investors Service Inc. in New York.Chrysler said this week that 1,425 white-collar employees opted for early retirement or voluntary termination. That's only half the number of jobs the struggling automaker planned to cut, the company said. The deadline for accepting the offer was April 30.

Chrysler spokesman Tom Houston said the low number was "about what we expected."

"We expect to get the rest of them by the end of the year, partly through attrition," Houston said. "We'll have the 3,000."

Sudol said some of the staffs have grown excessive so "they'll be working a little leaner, a little smarter. But often in early retirement programs, the people who opt to take them aren't the ones they want to lose."

The voluntary termination program may help avoid any white-collar layoffs by the end of the year. The No. 3 automaker expects to lose 700 jobs through attrition and the closing of its St. Louis assembly plant, Houston said.

Ford Motor Co. had estimated it would have to lay off 500 to 1,000 white-collar workers this year, but apparently will be able to avoid large numbers of layoffs, spokesman Dick Routh said.

About 1,350 workers have accepted early retirements at Ford. "We've had more early retirements than we expected, and that has reduced the necessity for additional layoffs," Routh said.

General Motors Corp. wants to eliminate 15,000, or 15 percent, of white-collar jobs by 1993.