Wall Street says Ford Motor Co. must cut its dividend. The automaker says that's nonsense.

The debate erupting over Ford's quarterly payout to shareholders—including the founding family that derives millions from the disbursements—is exposing a growing and contentious divide over what needs to be done to fix the ailing automaker.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley and Berenberg say Ford can no longer afford to pay the 15-cent dividend—the most generous among its automotive peers—as earnings evaporate overseas and the company initiates an $11 billion restructuring that it's said will take as much as five years.

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