DETROIT — Mark Fields, Ford president of the Americas, further cemented his chances of becoming chief executive of Ford with Thursday’s announcement of his promotion to the new position of chief operating officer, effective Dec. 1.
The announcement was made by Executive Chairman Bill Ford and Alan Mulally, the 67-year-old CEO whose retirement has been a topic of major speculation.
Bill Ford also announced that Mulally, who orchestrated a financial, cultural and product-led turnaround, will remain as CEO and president through at least 2014 and maybe longer.
That would make Mulally the longest-tenured CEO of the company since Henry Ford II, who held the reins 34 years.
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“Alan will be here two more years and could go longer,” Bill Ford said. “I love working with Alan. I’d like him to stay forever.”
But Fields, 51, will be responsible for all business operations, Bill Ford said.
A reshuffled deck of regional leaders will report to Fields now, and the new COO will lead the Thursday business plan meetings Mulally created after he joined the company in September 2006. The meetings were integral to Mulally’s success in shaking up a corporate culture of infighting and creating one of like-minded thinkers, including Fields.
Neither Bill Ford nor Mulally would say directly that Fields is being groomed to take over as CEO.
But Ford repeated his assertion that he prefers the next leader come from within the company: “I’d be surprised if the next CEO didn’t come from inside.”
“Wall Street is surely breathing a sigh of relief, since fear had swirled that Ford would revert to its old ways of backbiting and fiefdoms without Mulally keeping the place in check,” said Michelle Krebs, analyst with Edmunds.com.
Fields joined Ford in 1989 and his career has included assignments running Mazda in Japan, Ford of Europe and the Premier Automotive Group that included a number of luxury brands that Ford no longer has. He became president of the Americas in 2005, a year before Mulally joined the company from Boeing.
Auto sales posted another good month in October, with business strong enough early in the month to overcome sales lost to Hurricane Sandy in the past week.
Chrysler said its U.S. sales rose 10 percent to 126,185 vehicles compared with the same period a year earlier. It was Chrysler’s best October sales total since 2007.
General Motors also reported its highest October sales since 2007, with deliveries up 5 percent to 195,764 vehicles. Passenger-car sales grew the fastest of any auto segment.
Ford saw sales rise less than 1 percent to 168,456 for the month. The automaker’s passenger-car business grew faster while sales of pickups dipped slightly.
Toyota said sales rose 16 percent to 155,242 vehicles last month. The automaker is experiencing a rebound in sales from that disrupted a year ago by inventory and production problems caused by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
Volkswagen said its sales rose 22 percent to 34,311 vehicles. That represents VW’s best October since 1972. The brand has had a 36 percent year-to-date increase and in just 10 months of sales has posted its best full calendar-year tally since 1973.
“Fuel economy continues to be king and a key driver,” said Ken Czubay, Ford’s sales chief. Hybrids were the fastest-turning vehicles on dealer lots last month, he said.
Czubay said the industry believes few sales will be lost to the natural disaster that hit the East Coast this week.
“They are postponed and come back relatively quickly,” he said. “There are a significant number of vehicles damaged by rising water, and typically after the insurance companies come in, people use that money to buy those new vehicles.”
Los Angeles Times