Mulally Projects US vehicle sales to recover to pre-recession levels. Announces retirement.

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It raises my eyebrows when the CEO of Ford projects smooth highways ahead for the automobile industry and also announces his retirement at the end of 2014. Its like the uneasy feeling that rises in the esophagus as you sign those papers at the dealer… What if that sweet looking Mustang you just bought suddenly turns into a Pinto as you drive off the lot?

Going out on top is a skillful and lucky feat. Johnny Carson and Jerry Seinfeld did it right. Overstaying your welcome carries risks. Maybe Steve Ballmer should have retired after the Xbox. I doubt the French would have bothered to investigate Lance Armstrong if he won a couple of Tours de France. But Seven? Frenchmen are already irritable, why piss in their Perrier? Certainly Joe Paterno overstayed his welcome.

Mr. Mulally steered Ford through the minefield of America’s financial crisis and deserves to go out on top. At 68, he’s certainly put in the miles. Unlike GM and Chrysler, Ford never filed for bankruptcy. Profits have been strong at the legendary automaker.

Mullaly seems like a great guy. Any time I’ve heard him interviewed he sounds sharp and optimistic. He doesn’t sound like a muppet like John Chambers who can announce mass layoffs amid rising profits with a smile on his face (another guy who needs to exit stage left). Mulally sounds sincere. Good for him.

But Mulally’s biggest achievement could be the funding of Ford’s massive pension liabilities. Just a few years ago, the auto maker was short on pension obligations by over $15 billon, now analysts project parity will be achieved in 2014.

Every municipality in the US should take notes on Ford’s survival and pension fund repairs. It’s unlikely that many Cities and States will go out on top like Alan Mulally. Illinois will be somewhere between Joan Rivers and Lindsay Lohan. Meanwhile, Philadelphia is heading past Larry Holmes and heading towards a Brett Favre-like denouement.

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