The nation's second-largest automaker spent $3.7 billion more than it took in during the first three months of the year, far less than the $7.2 billion it spent in the fourth quarter of 2008.
Ford shares surged 76 cents, or 17 percent, to $5.25 in premarket trading.
The loss compares with a $70 million profit a year earlier. On a per share basis, Ford lost 60 cents, compared with earnings of 3 cents a share for the comparable quarter a year ago.
Revenue was $24.8 billion, down nearly 37 percent from $39.2 billion in the same quarter of last year, as U.S. sales declined 43 percent in the quarter.
Chief Financial Officer Lewis Booth said the company is confident that it will reduce its cash burn even further this year, and he said Ford will make it through 2009 without needing government aid. He would not speculate, however, about 2010.
"This is a very, very difficult environment," Booth said. "We're comfortable we'll get through this year."
Ford drew the last $10.1 billion from its revolving line of credit during the quarter and said it had $21.3 billion in cash as of March 31. That's down from $28.7 billion in the same period last year.
Booth said the company narrowed its loss from roughly $6 billion last quarter primarily due to cost cuts and better pricing for its vehicles. He said he expects continued improvement for the remainder of the year.
On a pretax basis, Ford lost 75 cents a share, beating analysts estimates. Eleven analysts polled Thomson Reuters expected a $1.23 per share loss on revenue of $22 billion.
Special items improved earnings by $362 million, including a $1.1 billion on gain on its March debt exchange. That gain was offset by a $664 million impairment charge due to a reduction in the book value of its Swedish Volvo unit. Ford classified Volvo as "held for sale," meaning that it's likely the unit will be sold in the next 12 months.
By AP Auto Writers Kimberly S. Johnson and Tom Krisher