“Please don’t write me off yet,” Mulally, 67, told reporters after a press conference in New York’s Times Square to discuss the redesigned Fusion’s fuel economy. “I mean, I love it here.”
Mulally has won acclaim for saving the automaker without a federal bailout or bankruptcy. The CEO has declined to say when he will retire or who will replace him. Ford’s board is preparing to promote Mark Fields to chief operating officer from president of the Americas, as part of a plan to have him eventually succeed Mulally, according to a person familiar with the deliberations.
“My plan is to continue to serve as the CEO of Ford,” Mulally said, adding that uncertainty over his retirement isn’t hurting the automaker’s share price. “I’m really clarifying that now. If I had any plans to do anything differently, I’d share it with everybody.”
Ford rose 0.3 percent to $10.42 at the close in New York. The shares have slipped 3.2 percent this year.
Fields, 51, a 23-year veteran of the automaker, helped lead a transformation of its North American operations from record losses four years ago to record profits this year. The company earned $4.14 billion in North America in 2012’s first half and had an operating profit margin of 10.8 percent in an industry where a 5 percent margin is considered respectable.
Asked to assess Fields’ leadership potential, Mulally instead spoke of Ford’s deep roster of executive talent.
“All of our leaders are growing, they’re developing,” Mulally said. “I think Ford has probably the strongest, many people believe it has the strongest bench ever.”
Ford lost $465 million overseas in the second quarter, as a worsening recession in Europe dragged down results. The company projects more than $1 billion in European losses this year. Ford is also losing money in Asia, as it spends $4.9 billion to expand in China, where it has less than 3 percent market share.
“They still have an awful lot of work to do,” said Rebecca Lindland, a Boston-based analyst for consultant IHS Automotive. “They’re not out of the woods yet.”
Ford avoided bankruptcy because it borrowed $23.4 billion in late 2006, less than four months after Mulally arrived from Boeing Co. (BA) The automaker put up all major assets, including its blue oval logo, as collateral. It recovered control of those assets in May after Moody’s Investors Service followed Fitch Ratings in upgrading Ford’s debt to an investment-grade credit rating.
Ford continues to benefit from not taking a bailout, Mulally said.
“The response we’ve got over the last five years has been incredible,” he said. “The fact that we did it and that we didn’t access precious taxpayer money really helped everybody understand what Ford is really about.”
In the U.S., Mulally revived the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker by focusing on quality, fuel economy and technology. He also cut jobs and sold off European luxury brands Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo. Ford lost $30.1 billion from 2006 through 2008 and earned $29.5 billion in the last three years, mostly in Fields’ North American operations.
The new Fusion Hybrid promoted today gets an Environmental Protection Agency-certified rating of 47 miles (76 kilometers) per gallon in city and highway driving.
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