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Written by: Staff

Los Angeles, Apr 7: Ford Motor Co. said on thursday that the company's second-highest ranking executive was retiring, the latest in a series of management changes linked to the automaker's bid to slash costs and return to profitability in its biggest market.

Jim Padilla, 59, will retire as president and chief operating officer, effective July 1, the company said in a statement.

Padilla, who made his mark in a 40-year career at Ford as a manufacturing specialist, will not be replaced, giving Chairman and Chief Executive Bill Ford a more direct role in the management of the company his great-grandfather founded.

The move also marks an advance for Mark Fields, who heads Ford's North American operations and has spearheaded the company's turnaround efforts, including plans to cut 30,000 jobs and shutter 14 production plants.

Padilla's responsibilities will be assumed by a new executive committee headed by Ford and including Fields, and Anne Stevens, Ford's chief operating officer for the Americas.

''Padilla is a very able (executive), but he is also the old guard,'' said Burnham Securities analyst David Healy. ''Padilla is out because Ford wants his own people. That's my view.'' Padilla will not to stand for reelection to the company's board of directors at the annual meeting in May, Ford said.

By leaving the chief operating officer position unfilled, Ford cleared the way for a potential promotion for Fields if the company's planned restructuring delivers results.

Fields, 45, previously lead a turnaround at Ford affiliate Mazda Motor Co. and has headed the company's European and luxury units.

''I think Mark Fields will eventually be COO, but it's possible they might still bring in someone from outside the company,'' Healy said.

Fields has won praise from dealers for paying closer attention to their views on what is needed to reverse a slide in market share driven by slower sales of profitable sport utility vehicles.

''We like what we're hearing. We haven't always agreed with (management) the way we are agreeing now,'' said Beau Boeckmann, vice president of Los Angeles-based Galpin Ford, the No. 1 Ford dealership.

Other members of Ford's newly created executive committee include Mark Schulz, president, international operations; Lewis Booth, executive vice president, Ford of Europe and premier automotive group; and Chief Financial Officer Don Leclair.

Schulz and Fields, who had previously reported to Padilla, will now report directly to Ford, the company said.

''We have the right team for the job at hand and it is time for me to allow them to grow even further and transition into the new roles that await them,'' Padilla said in a statement.

Ford said on Wednesday the Detroit auto industry was in a ''precarious'' situation, but said he did not see bankruptcy as a risk for the No. 2 U.S. automaker.

Strong competition, soaring health care and raw material costs, and a slide in U.S. market share forced Ford to announce a second restructuring for its North American operations in four years.

Saddled with a junk debt rating and facing a sharp drop in U.S. market share, Ford's restructuring plan, dubbed ''Way Forward,'' is designed to reverse a $1.6 billion loss last year in its North American operations.

Shares of Ford closed up 8 cents at $7.65 on the New York Stock Exchange, near a three-year low set last month.

Padilla's retirement was the most recent in a string of executive departures at Ford, which has been trimming the ranks of its corporate officers.

Others who have recently left Ford include former Vice Chairman Greg Smith and veteran sales and marketing executive Steve Lyons and Chief Information Officer Marv Adams.


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