October 1, 2018 / 6:08 AM / 2 months ago

New Fiat Chrysler boss picks team to tackle industry in flux

MILAN/DETROIT (Reuters) - Fiat Chrysler’s (FCHA.MI) new boss unveiled his management team on Monday, seeking to revive the automaker in Europe, forge ahead in North America and keep the group in contention in the industry’s race to develop self-driving and electric cars.

FILE PHOTO: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) CEO Mike Manley arrives at the memorial service held in honor of former CEO Sergio Marchionne in Turin, Italy, September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Massimo Pinca

Mike Manley took over in July after long-time chief Sergio Marchionne fell ill and later died after succumbing to complications from surgery. British-born Manley has since pledged to carry through a strategy Marchionne outlined in June to keep FCA “strong and independent”.

“The next five years will continue to be extremely challenging for our industry, with tougher regulations, intense competition and probably slower industry growth around the world,” Manley said in a letter to employees on Monday.

“Nevertheless, with a laser focus on execution and a continued flexibility that allows us to adjust as circumstances change ... we have a clear line of sight to achieving our five-year ambitions.”

Manley appointed Pietro Gorlier, thus far head of FCA’s components business, as FCA’s next European chief to tackle a region where profitability is below that of peers, many workers are stuck in furloughs and various plants run at below capacity.

Gorlier succeeds Alfredo Altavilla who left after Manley’s appointment. At Magneti Marelli, the parts unit that FCA may either spin off or sell, Gorlier will be succeeded by the parts maker’s lighting division head Ermanno Ferrari.

Japan’s Calsonic Kansei has been in talks with FCA about buying the unit, sources familiar with the matter have said, but no binding agreement has been reached and the deal could still fall apart.

Choosing an Italian as head of Europe might soothe some fears in Italy that FCA could weaken its link to Fiat’s roots.

In his last strategy unveiled in June, Marchionne vowed to convert Italian plants to churn out Alfa Romeos, Jeeps and Maseratis instead of less profitable mass-market vehicles to preserve jobs and boost margins. Europe will also become a big part of the company’s electrification drive.

FCA will copy in Europe what worked in the United States, where it retooled plants to build pricier SUVs and trucks in a move since emulated by bigger rivals Ford (F.N) and GM (GM.N).

JEEP

Manley also named new managers at Jeep and RAM, the two brands which have been driving profits in recent years.

Tim Kuniskis was named head of Jeep North America, while Reid Bigland was named head of trucks brand RAM.

Manley, who looked after Jeep and RAM before becoming CEO, will continue to keep an eye on Jeep, as no global head for FCA’s most lucrative brand was named.

FCA shares were up 3.4 percent by 1407 GMT.

With Kuniski’s appointment “we have all of our regions covered by Jeep brand executives who oversee day-to-day operations and Jeep product strategy in each region”, a spokesman said, adding Manley and the group executive council would ensure regional and brand objectives were in line with its business plan.

FCA said in June it would ramp up production of SUVs and invest billion of euros in electric and hybrid cars in a bid to double operating profit by 2022.

Marchionne said at the time that sales at Jeep, which will launch nine new products and enter three new segments, could double by then from the 1.4 million vehicles sold in 2017.

Kuniskis will also remain in charge of Alfa Romeo, while Harald Wester, current chief technology officer, will take on an additional role of leading luxury brand Maserati.

Manley and his team have big shoes to fill: Marchionne achieved what many thought impossible, most notably his huge gamble just over a decade ago when he set in motion the marriage between the then-ailing Fiat with bankrupt U.S. rival Chrysler.

It is now the world’s seventh-largest carmaker and is debt-free, but not without challenges ahead.

FCA cut its full-year profit outlook in July, blaming a weaker-than-expected performance in China, a market that represents one of the new CEO’s immediate headaches.

Reporting by Agnieszka Flak in Milan and Nick Carey in Detroit; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Mark Potter

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