Nasser Ducks the Final Question

Jacques Nasser must have known the end was near.

At his last public appearance as Ford Motor Co. president and CEO, Mr. Nasser addresses near-term topics such as Neighbor, the low-speed zero-emission vehicle built in Detroit by the automaker's subsidiary, TH!NK. But the fiery 53-year-old executive declines to look deep into 2002 at the challenges facing Ford.

“Do you have two or three hours?” he responds when WAW puts the question to him. Then he turns abruptly and darts out the door of TruMack Assembly, where reporters had gathered to witness the official launch of Neighbor.

“It's a small vehicle, but its significance is large,” Mr. Nasser says after driving a Neighbor off the line and playfully noting how close he'd come to a small throng of waiting reporters. “It's the first low-speed vehicle from our TH!NK group to be produced for sale here in the United States. And TH!INK is the first brand, first automotive brand, to be dedicated entirely to environmental driving and personal transportation solutions.”

Within minutes of being whisked away in a waiting car, he was meeting with Ford Chairman William Clay Ford Jr.

At this meeting, Mr. Ford says later, it was agreed the time was right for the embattled Mr. Nasser to “retire” after 33 years of service to the automaker.

The next day, Mr. Ford is greeted by wild cheers as he's introduced to employees as the company's new CEO. “I know every one of you joins me in thanking him and in wishing him well,” he says of Mr. Nasser.

Awkward silence follows.

“I'd like a round of applause for Jac,” Mr. Ford adds.

The response is little more than polite.