AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (Jan. 29)—The Chrysler group of DaimlerChrysler A.G. today said it will cut 20 percent or 26,000 salaried and hourly positions in North America over the next three years through a combination of retirements, layoffs and attrition. It will idle six plants between now and the end of 2002. The auto maker plans to accomplish 75 percent of the reductions by the end of the year, Dieter Zetsche, Chrysler group president and CEO, said during a news conference. Zetsche announced the consolidations a month sooner than the auto maker planned in the interests of ending rumors and speculation, Zetsche said. "Ladies and gentleman, these decisions are absolutely necessary to be competitive, in fact, to survive," he said.