(Reuters) - Ford Motor Co's board of directors will discuss this week a succession plan for Chief Executive Alan Mulally, who is expected to retire by the end of 2013, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing a person familiar with the matter.
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The news agency reported that Mark Fields, head of Ford's operations in North and South America, will be promoted to chief operating officer, a move that would put him first in line to replace Mulally, 67.
A Ford spokesman declined to comment on the report, saying the company does not speculate on personnel decisions. Analysts widely expect Mulally to retire by the end of next year and Fields has long been seen as the front-runner for the position.
Mulally joined Ford in 2006 from airplane maker Boeing Co He is credited with steering Ford back from the brink of bankruptcy with a $23 billion loan and a plan, dubbed "One Ford," to unify once-disconnected business units and cut costs.
Finding a successor is crucial for Ford because Mulally is so closely identified with Ford's success and ability to avoid the federal bailouts that rescued its U.S. rivals General Motors Co and Chrysler Group LLC.
This month's board meeting is scheduled for Thursday in Dearborn, Michigan, a source told Reuters. The meeting comes as Ford grapples with a number of challenges, notably in Europe, where it is expected to lose more than $1 billion this year amid a broader economic crisis that has hurt vehicle demand.
Ford is drawing up a plan to cut costs in Europe and also plans to launch 15 new or restyled models in the region over the next five years, which could boost earnings.
"We got the sense that Ford is targeting a restructuring plan that will result in break-even operations at current industry production volumes," Jefferies analyst Peter Nesvold said in a note this week.
Fields, 51, and Joe Hinrichs, 45, have been seen as the most likely internal candidates to succeed Mulally when he retires. Ford's executive chairman, Bill Ford, has said he wants the next CEO to come from within Ford's executive ranks.
Mulally has repeatedly declined to comment on his retirement except to say that the company has a succession plan for every position, including his own.
Bloomberg reported that Ford's board may vote this month or in October to promote Fields to COO. If Fields is named COO, it will be the first time someone has occupied that position since 2006, when Jim Padilla, who was also president, retired.
When asked at a Ford event on Monday if he would like to be Ford's next CEO, Fields declined to comment.