Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Mulally Hopes Product, Not Succession, Is Story as Ford Heads Into Fall

In every CEO's tenure there are periods where it must seem like their spinning their wheels. Times when the game plan they've laid out is hijacked by events or developments outside of their control. Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally is in one of those moments right now.

Alan Mulally, president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co., speaks during the unveiling of the Ford Fusion in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012. Mulally said he has no plans to retire from Ford Motor Co., the second-biggest U.S. automaker.
Peter Foley | Bloomberg | Getty Images

After 5 years marked by a scramble to save Ford , rebuild it as a leaner, profitable company and finally turning around the business in the U.S., Mulally's company is now in a holding pattern. 

Its business in Europe is a mess (expected to lose more than a billion dollars this year), the U.S. market is solid but facing a renewed charge from Toyota and Honda , the stock is down 29 percent this year and now it seems as though the only thing people want to ask Mulally is when he'll step down as CEO. (Read More: Ford's CEO Transition Won't Change Its Biggest Problem.)

"I love and am so pleased to able to serve as CEO with the Ford Motor Company," Mulally told me in Times Square after Ford launched the redesigned Fusion.

It was vintage Mulally. Delivered with the trademark smile.

The world may see a company facing questions about its future but Mulally projects the image of calm. It's been his calling card as long as he's run Ford.

While he told executives inside the company almost from the start that Ford would ultimately be two brands (Ford and Lincoln), he publicly downplayed talk of selling brands or shutting them down, until the Ford leadership was ready to announce those moves.

So now, as Ford tries to fix Europe and investors grouse about a stock that is stuck in the $10 range, Mulally is sticking with the plan that's served him well in the past. (Read More: Ford CEO Mulally Plots Europe Comeback.)

Ford in the U.S. continues to grow profits and profit margins with a steady cadence of new and re-designed models. That will be the focus this fall even as reporters pepper Mulally with questions about his succession plans. (Read More: Toyota Camry Surges Past Ford F-150 to US Top Spot.)

As much as investors crave for some sign from Ford that it's making a move on several fronts, it's likely to be some time before things change at Ford.  

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau


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