It's auto sales day, and Ford made a big splash by announcing its succession plan: Alan Mulally will stay on as CEO until at least 2014 and Mark Fields has been named COO, putting him in line to be Mulally's eventual replacement.
"Like most of what Alan Mulally has done at Ford, the naming of Mark Fields as his successor looks like an orderly, no-drama pick," says Justin Hyde, senior editor of Yahoo!'s Motoramic blog. "With Ford making huge profits everywhere outside of Europe, and its vehicles being generally well-received around the world, there's no external pressure on Mulally to leave, and the Ford family itself remains a huge fan."
According to Ford's statement:
"Mulally will continue leading the long-term strategic development of the One Ford plan and its continuous improvement. Fields will be responsible for all business operations. Fields will continue to report to Mulally, as will the company's chief financial officer, general counsel and group vice president of Human Resources and Corporate Services."
Says Hyde, "Ford has its challenges—quality, Lincoln and losses in Europe to name three—but now Fields will get a chance to prove he can manage those issues. Fields has been Mulally's likely replacement for years, and now he just has to wait a few more."
The company reported sales in October that were up month-to-month only 0.4% to 168,456, and flat from a year ago. But sales on some its smaller models are up more than 50% from a year ago, to 25,493. Ford also said that Superstorm Sandy likely cost the auto industry 20,000 to 25,000 sales for the month.
"October was not a stellar month for Ford, which saw sales flat with last year, and no star performances," says Edmunds.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs. "The Fusion, which accounts for a big chunk of Ford's total sales, was down 30 percent as the new model waits to be launched into the market.
"On the utility side, the Escape—revamped in June—was up, but its sibling Edge was down twice as much as the Escape increased. The C-Max, which Ford is advertising as a direct competitor to the Toyota Prius, appears to be off to a decent start."
Of the leadership lineup, Krebs had the following perspective:
"Many of us were skeptical when Alan Mulally arrived at Ford, with his 'aw shucks' style of talking and his lacking automotive experience, but it turns out he was just what Ford needed. He immediately saw some obvious problems, such as why the company dropped the well-known and popular Taurus nameplate. He instantly brought that back as one of his first actions. More significant, however, he noticed that the Fords sold in various markets were all different. A European Ford Focus, for example, was different from an American Ford Focus. Mulally set Ford on a course of One Ford around the globe, and above all, he set a winning course and stuck with it, something the zig-zagging Ford Motor Co. had not experienced since perhaps the Model T. 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.
"Mark Fields earned his stripes heading North American operations and turning them around, both on the cost side, by closing plants and cutting jobs, and the revenue side, by overseeing the launch of a long string of significant and ultimately successful new models. North America is the bright spot for Ford as demonstrated by the automaker's most recent earnings performance."
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