Mulally clears air; it's time to talk about the vehicles

Alan Mulally's assertion that he will remain as Ford Motor Co.'s CEO through 2014 ends speculation that he will leave to take over Microsoft Corp., which has become a distraction for Ford.

The 68-year-old executive was reported to be on the short list of candidates to replace Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, almost since the software giant in August announced Ballmer's pending retirement.

Mulally never confirmed he was in the running, but widespread speculation that he was has overshadowed Ford's excellent sales and financial story since autumn.

Mulally has served longer than any other Ford CEO except Henry Ford and Henry Ford II and has led the automaker's revival since he was hired away from Boeing in 2006. He certainly has earned the right to listen to another potential employer.

But the prolonged uncertainty was unsettling. By clearing the air last week, Mulally and Ford may hope to focus this week at the Detroit auto show on the new models the automaker will introduce in 2014, including a next-generation F-series large pickup that is its key to global profitability.

Reporters and analysts likely will seek clarification about Mulally this week. He should have settled this matter for good in 2013, well before the auto industry's biggest news forum of the year. But at least the word is out.

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