DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co (F.N) promoted several younger executives to key roles on Tuesday, marking yet another step by the U.S. automaker to prepare for the eventual exit of Chief Executive Alan Mulally.
The automaker's changes included naming Moray Callum, 54, as global design chief. Callum, currently the head of design for North and South America, replaces 16-year Ford veteran J Mays, 59, who is retiring.
Ford also named new executives to lead labor affairs and North American manufacturing, and added another corporate officer. The changes are effective on January 1.
More than half of Ford's 20 senior executives have been replaced, promoted or given additional duties since early 2012. The accelerated pace of change in the top ranks comes as the No. 2 U.S. automaker lays the groundwork for the post-Mulally era.
Mulally, 68, is credited with inspiring a cultural change that helped Ford reverse its losses and avert a federal bailout in 2009. Whether Ford reverts to a culture of in-fighting once Mulally leaves remains an open question for investors.
Late last year, Ford named Mark Fields, 52, as chief operating officer, a move seen as putting the longtime Ford veteran on track to be CEO. This shift triggered other management changes deeper in the company.
"There's a real clear change in leadership that's occurring here," Guggenheim Securities analyst Matthew Stover said, adding: "I think it will play out that Mark will be the next CEO and I think he's assembling his team."
It remains unclear when Mulally will leave Ford, which he has led since 2006. He has repeatedly said he plans to adhere to his agreement to stay with Ford until the end of 2014.
But people familiar with the matter have previously said that Mulally is open to other opportunities and may leave Ford earlier if another job presents itself. He has been suggested as a CEO candidate at Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) sources have said.
The automaker's focus has also shifted in recent years to managing its growth. It is more aggressively expanding overseas, particularly in China, and trying to overhaul its upscale Lincoln brand, which has lagged its peers this year.
During his 16 years at Ford, Mays led the Ford global design teams that developed the look for the Fusion mid-size sedan, Mustang sports car and F-150 pickup truck. Mays joined Ford in 1997 as vice president of design and was named group vice president in 2003.
"The bold and sophisticated design language that J Mays pioneered will be visible for years to come in Ford vehicles and the auto industry overall," Fields said in a statement.
In his new position, Callum will report to Raj Nair, global product development chief, leading the design of all Ford and Lincoln vehicles globally.
Callum led Mazda Motor Corp's (7261.T) design overhaul from 2001 to 2006. Since 2006, he has led design of all cars and trucks designed in Ford's North and South American studios and the new Lincoln vehicles, including the Lincoln MKZ.
Also on Tuesday, Ford said North American manufacturing chief Jim Tetreault was retiring after 25 years at Ford. He will be replaced by Bruce Hettle. Marty Mulloy, head of labor affairs, is also retiring after 34 years at Ford, and will be replaced by Bill Dirksen.
Ford also named Steven Armstrong president of Ford South America and made him the company's 42nd corporate officer. He had been head of the automaker's Brazil operations.
Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; editing by Dan Grebler and Matthew Lewis