Ford on Thursday promoted David Thursfield to executive vice president and president of international operations, leading US media to speculate he is being groomed for the Number Two spot under chairman Bill Ford.

Ford also made James Padilla an executive vice-president and president, North America.

Both will continue to report to the present second-in-command, president and chief operating officer Nick Scheele.

All reporting relationships in North America remain unchanged with Padilla continuing to lead all Ford, Mercury and Lincoln operations in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

However, Thursfield will be an even busier man, now he is also in charge of the Premier Automotive Group, led by Mark Fields, and Mazda Motor Company, led by Lewis Booth while continuing to run Ford European, Asia Pacific and South American operations and purchasing. This pulls together the company’s international business operations into one group.

“Bringing together Mazda and our global premium brands with the rest of our international group makes sense for the business and for our customers,” said Bill Ford. “David will work with Mark Fields and Lewis Booth to maximize synergies and realise efficiencies in our international businesses.”

The New York Times (NYT) today said much speculation had focused on the increasing prominence of Thursfield, if for no other reason than analysts see him as a tough-minded cost cutter at a time when Ford desperately needs such a person.

The NYT noted that Ford, which lost $US5.5 billion last year, reiterated on Thursday that its fourth-quarter net income will be less than the 12 cents a share it earned in the third quarter.

The NYT said that was not a surprise to Wall Street but Stephen Girsky, an auto industry analyst with Morgan Stanley, told the newspaper that it was further evidence that Ford’s overhaul program was failing to gain traction.

“For a company to earn less in the fourth quarter than in the third quarter is very unusual in this business,” he told the NYT.

In contrast to turnaround efforts at Chrysler and Nissan, both of which showed quick results, “this plan is slow in getting started,” Girsky added, according to the NYT.

Although Padilla and Thursfield now hold equivalent titles, Girsky told the New York Times that Thursfield was the executive to watch at Ford, adding that he was proving to be more than just a slash-and-burn specialist.

“I don’t think he’s just a cost cutter,” he told the newspaper, adding that in Europe the company had put products out on schedule — which has been a problem in North America — and under budget.

“David’s been successful everywhere he’s been. They are putting him in position to become Number Two to Bill Ford,” Girsky told the New York Times.

Thursfield joined Ford in 1979 as plant manager of the Broadmeadows car assembly plant in Australia. He progressed through other manufacturing positions in Australia and Europe, including director of body and assembly operations, Ford of Europe. In 1996, he moved to the United States and two years later became vice president, vehicle operations. He returned to Europe in 2000 as president and in 2001 was named president and chief executive officer, Ford of Europe. He most recently was group vice president, international operations and global purchasing.

Padilla joined Ford in 1966 as a quality control engineer and has held a series of management positions of increasing responsibility in product engineering and manufacturing. From 1992 to 1994, he was director of engineering and manufacturing at Jaguar, during its critical turnaround period. He has also served as president of Ford’s South American operations and group vice president, global manufacturing. He most recently was group vice president, North America.