He's aggressive, he's passionate about cats and he's young young enough, at 48, to have more than a decade at the helm, if Ford Motor Co.'s board of directors see fit to anoint him as the next CEO.

Product development guru Jacques A. Nasser is now the clear heir apparent to Alex Trotman with his Oct. 10 promotion to president of Ford Automotive Operations and chairman of Ford of Europe, making him the clear heir apparent to Mr. Trotman, at least for the spot of chief executive officer.

Recent speculation that some directors are ready to name William Clay Ford Jr. as chairman following Mr. Trotman's retirement remains just that. The 39-year-old nephew of Henry Ford II continues to focus on his his Detroit Lions and their proposed new downtown Detroit stadium.

While he is a potential chairman - he chairs the board's powerful finance committee - last month's moves signal that the Ford family, which still controls 40% of the company's voting stock, is not pressing the board too strongly to put a family member in charge yet.

Edsel Ford II, the 48-year-old great-grandson of the company founder, remains president of Ford Motor Credit Co.

The other winner in Ford's management shuffle is 52-year-old John M. Devine, the chief financial officer who becomes an executive vice president of the corporation.

The Lebanese-born. Australian-raised Nasser has spearheaded the product development portion of Ford 2000, one goal of which is to cut Ford's number of vehicle platforms from today's 32 to 16 by the turn of the century.

Simultaneously with Mr. Nasser's promotion, Ford will cut the number of vehicle centers from five to three, and the number of vehicle line directors - the executives responsible for seeing, each new production from design through engineering to production - from 17 to 11.

Edward E. Hagenlocker, whom Nasser succeeds, becomes vice chairman in charge of automotive components, land development, technical affairs and rental car operations. He will sort through Ford's various parts operations, decide which can be competitive, which can't, and find ways to sell or close the latter.

Meanwhile, W. Wayne Booker becomes vice chairman and remains in charge of Ford's operations in emerging overseas markets.

The only surprise was the lack of any board action on either of the Ford men. Despite media speculation that Bill Ford Jr. may succeed Mr. Trotman if he retires in 1998, neither takes on new duties now.

Mr. Devine emerges as a dark horse in Ford's succession picture. He has worked diligently to establish his credibility with Wall Street where he is expected to provide the ultimate scorecard on Ford 2000's success or failure.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trotman declines to tip his hand regarding his retirement plan.

"The board will decide when I leave," says Mr. Trotman. "But as we have pointed out before, we have had examples of people leaving before that (turning 65) and after that. I will leave the company sometime between one year from now and 10 years from now."

Chrysler's Lutz Stays

On for Two Years

Proving that rumors of his retirement are greatly exaggerated, Chrysler President Robert A. Lutz says the board of directors has approved an arrangement that will let him stay on in a full-time position for two years beyond his upcoming 65th birthday in February.

"I'm having more fun at Chrysler now than I have had in my entire career," says Mr. Lutz. Since the board had not stamped its approval before WAW's press time, Lutz declines to give the specific title, but adds that it is "way more" than a consulting role and "ideal from the standpoint of transition and continuity."