This is one way to end speculation about which Ford scion next will lead the family business.

Edsel B. Ford II has stepped down as president of Ford Credit to consult on issues relating to Ford Motor Co.'s 10,500 dealers. He retains his seat on the board of directors and its finance committee. He joins the board's organizational review and nominating committee, where he will have some voice in determining whether his cousin William C. Ford Jr. will ascend to board chairman following the retirement of current Chairman and CEO Alex Trotman in late 1999.

The driving force behind the decision, Edsel says, is his desire to spend more time with the wide variety of civic and charitable organizations he has served.

"I was not frustrated in the least," Mr. Ford says in response to the impression created by a 1996 Fortune magazine story that Mr. Trotman had told him his career had peaked. "This was a self-generated idea, and something I've been wanting to do for some time."

There were family considerations.

"My oldest son is 18 and will go off to college this fall," he says. "I have four really good kids. My dad (Henry Ford II) was gone a lot. I grew up not knowing my father. I didn't want that to happen to me. I pledged when I got married and had kids that if I had to be late to work to take the kids to school I would be late and pay the consequences."

His community service includes serving as board chairman of CATCH (Caring Athletes Team for Children's and Henry Ford Hospitals), vice chairman of the National Advisory Board of the Salvation Army and trustee of the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. Mr. Ford recently was appointed to the Wayne County Airport Commission and the Coleman A. Young Memorial Commission.

The former group is responsible for overseeing construction of a new international airport for Detroit. The latter is charged with selecting a fitting commemorative structure to honor the former Detroit mayor who died in 1997.

Mr. Ford will keep an office on or near the hallowed 11th floor of Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn.

"I can play kind of an ombudsman role. I would still like to remain close to dealers," he says. "I have had 25 years of experience at Ford, and I've made a lot of friends among our dealers."