Industry watchers will have a close eye on Thursday's board of directors meeting at automaker Ford (NYSE: F), as rumors indicate the board is closing in on pinpointing a successor to CEO Alan Mulally.

Citing an anonymous source, Bloomberg is reporting today that directors are preparing to promote Mark Fields to be chief operating officer, putting him in place to eventually take over for Mulally. Fields, 51, is now presidents of Ford's operations in North and South America and has presided over record profitability in North America during 2012. Mulally, 67, has been leading Ford since 2006.

Already with seven years' experience as the chief of Ford's most profitable region, the move would boost Fields' chances of replacing Mulally upon his retirement. Mulally hasn't stated any concrete time to retire, although industry watchers expect him to step down by the end of next year.

Mulally has never had a COO, so the promotion would greatly increase Fields' profile at the powerful automaker. If the move comes to pass, Fields would face a number of challenges replacing Mulally, who navigated Ford through the recession and steered clear of bailouts and restructuring that hit Detroit rivals General Motors and Chrysler. Ford expects to lose around $1 billion in Europe in 2012, and has suffered through a considerable drop in stock price in the past year. Like its rivals, Ford has seen Chinese sales rising quickly as it looks to grow its market share in the world's second-largest economy.

While Ford has not commented on the speculation, other candidates in the running include Asian operations chief Joe Hinrichs and global marketing head Jim Farley, according to Bloomberg.

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Fool contributor Dan Carroll holds no positions in the stocks mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford Motor. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Ford Motor and General Motors and creating a synthetic long position in Ford Motor. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.