Two More Chrysler Big Shots Out in Fiat-Led Management, Brand Reorg

By Bill Visnic October 5, 2009

Chrysler Group LLC is losing two more high-level executives after a board meeting last week conducted by 20-percent owner and managing partner Fiat S.p.A. The company is casting the moves as part of its ongoing efforts to reorganize Chrysler management in an orientation more focused on the company's individual Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands.

Oliver Francois, Chrysler brand president and CEO.jpgLeaving the company are Gary Fong, president and CEO of the Chrysler brand who also was Chrysler's chief sales executive, and Michael Accavitti, a longtime product-oriented Chrysler executive who most recently had been appointed by Fiat as president and CEO of the Dodge brand.

In a statement, Chrysler also said it is reorganizing the Dodge brand, creating separate groups for Dodge cars and trucks.

The move is just the latest in a series of executive shuffles that has left many long-serving Chrysler executives on the outside looking in, as Fiat often harvests its own ranks for replacements.

The company continued to emphasize the goals of its reorganization strategy rather than dwell on the place or performance of individuals -- although Fong's departure, in particular, could in less chaotic times be interpreted as a result of Chrysler's year-to-date sales decline of 39 percent. Sales for most automakers continue to suffer markedly in the nation's ongoing economic strife, however.

"The brand-focused strategy has been refined further with the unbundling of the Dodge Brand, which now consists of the Dodge Ram Brand and the Dodge Car Brand organizations," said Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchinonne in a statement.

"This reorganization will allow us to protect and develop the unique nature of the product offerings within the Dodge Brand," he added.

Replacements From Inside and Outside

Replacing Fong (said to be leaving for personal reasons) as Chrysler brand president and CEO is Fiat executive Oliver Francois, who also will retain his position as head of Fiat's premium Lancia brand. Chrysler's statement said Francois will also "coordinate worldwide marketing strategies, brand development and advertising for the Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge Car and Dodge Ram brands. He will continue to lead these functions within Fiat Group Automobiles."

Taking over for Accavitti, who left to pursue other interests, are two executives.

Fred Diaz Jr. will serve as president and CEO for the Dodge Ram brand. Diaz was Chrysler's director of the Denver Business Center.

Fred Diaz, president and CEO Dodge Ram brand.jpgAnd Chrysler design chief Ralph Gilles will add the title of president and CEO for the Dodge Car Brand to his existing duties.

Mangement of the Jeep brand remains untouched at the moment, with Michael Manley continuing as president and CEO.

Just weeks ago, Fiat replaced Chrysler powertrain boss Bob Lee with Paolo E. Ferrero, an executive who was Fiat's vice president of product engineering. Chrysler said at the time that Lee, a popular executive who has served his entire career at Chrysler, still was employed by the company.

Earlier this spring and just prior to Chrysler's quick run through bankruptcy, former Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda announced his retirement. And not long after the company reorganized and exited Chapter 11, then-CEO Bob Nardelli, installed by former Chrysler majority owner Cerberus Capital Management LLC, left the company and was replaced by Marchionne, a strategy that had been a condition of Fiat's management takeover. -- Bill Visnic, senior contributing editor

Photos courtesy Chrysler Group LLC

1. Oliver Francois, president and CEO, Chrysler brand.

2. Fred Diaz, Jr., president and CEO, Dodge Ram brand.

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