Ford execs tout Fusion; Mulally stays mum on succession

Tue Sep 18, 2012 8:33pm EDT
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By Ernest Scheyder and Deepa Seetharaman

NEW YORK/DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co (F.N: Quote) dispatched its top brass, including Chief Executive Alan Mulally, to major U.S. cities on Tuesday to promote the 2013 Fusion, its redesigned family sedan that takes aim at Toyota Motor Corp's (7203.T: Quote) Camry.

The second-largest U.S. automaker began shipping the Fusion, which boasts a more athletic design and more fuel economy options, to dealers last week. Ford hopes the third-generation Fusion, coupled with the new Escape crossover launched this spring, will boost its U.S. market share.

The media blitz comes as Ford's board of directors develops a succession plan for Mulally, 67. Ford is also cutting costs in Europe, where it expects to lose more than $1 billion this year. Ford's sales in Europe fell 29 percent in August, while overall industry sales dropped 8.5 percent.

"There is a tremendous decrease in demand, but we're absolutely committed to Europe," Mulally said at a Fusion event in New York. "That will involve some restructuring."

The board is looking to name Mark Fields, Ford's head of North and South America, chief operating officer, a sign that he could be the heir apparent to Mulally, a source told Reuters last week.

But on Tuesday, Mulally kept a lid on the finer details of Ford's plans for Europe and his own plans for retirement. He said Ford has a strong internal bench of potential leaders and he was "pleased to continue to serve as CEO of Ford."

"Please don't vote me off," he joked to reporters.

Under Mulally's "One Ford" plan, Ford is moving toward building more cars using fewer platforms, a move that cuts costs but allows Ford to offer more features at a lower price.   Continued...

Alan Mulally, President and CEO of Ford Motor Company attends a launch event for the New 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid car in New York's Times Square, September 18, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar