Earlier Edsel Ford said that Mulally "is staying through the end of 2014 and that's all I know." The director was speaking on the sidelines of the introduction of the new Mustang in Dearborn, Mich., where Ford is based.
Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, said in August that he planned to step down within a year. While people familiar with the Redmond, Wash.-based technology company's thinking have said that Ford's Mulally is considered among the top candidates to replace him, Edsel Ford's comments pose questions about the timing of such a move.
"Frankly, he has told us that his plan is to stay with Ford through the end of 2014," said the director, who is a great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford.
Ford's directors haven't pressed Mulally to make a public statement to clarify that he plans to stay with the automaker because he's made his intentions clear to the company's board, Edsel Ford said.
Mulally is "the turnaround guy, he's the streamlining guy," Colin Gillis, an analyst at BGC Partners in New York, said in an interview. "All these people who are clamoring to get rid of Bing and Xbox and just focus on the core, he would be the guy most likely to do that,"
Mulally, 68, has reversed Ford's fortunes since arriving from Boeing in 2006.
Microsoft's board is working to rapidly replace Ballmer and is focusing on a list of likely candidates that includes Mulally and Microsoft executive Satya Nadella, people familiar with the discussions said last week. Other choices include unnamed outside executives, one of the people said.
The board is aiming to have a CEO decision this year, though an announcement could be pushed back until early in 2014, said one of the people with knowledge of the matter. Rick Sherlund, an analyst with Nomura Holdings Inc. in New York, said the choice may yet be Mulally, based on responses he gave in an interview today with CNBC.
"Alan Mulally was asked directly about this, and he said only that he is happy serving Ford. When then confronted with the observation that he did not answer the question, all he would say is, 'we do not comment on speculation,'" Sherlund wrote in an investor note today.
"We view these as non-denial denials. If he were not in discussions, it would be easy to say I am not interested and will not go, as some other candidates have said."