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Chrysler Replaces Dodge President

Wed, 06/08/2011 - 4:22am
Tom Krisher, AP Auto Writer

AUBURN HILLS, Michigan (AP) -- Chrysler Group LLC has shuffled its management ranks again, replacing its U.S. sales chief and the head of the Dodge brand.

In the most high-profile move, Ralph Gilles, the company's design chief, was replaced as president and CEO of Dodge by Reid Bigland, who will continue in his role as president and CEO of Chrysler Canada.

Chrysler, now controlled by Italy's Fiat SpA, also appointed Bigland as U.S. sales chief, replacing Fred Diaz.

Sergio Marchionne, CEO of both Fiat and Chrysler, last shook up his senior management team in October of 2009.

Gilles is responsible for designing two of Chrysler's most distinctive and popular vehicles, the Chrysler 300 luxury sedan and the muscular 2009 Dodge Ram pickup. As part of the shake-up, he was put in charge of a new niche brand for muscle cars and trucks called Street and Racing Technology. He will lead Chrysler's racing operations and will continue to head interior and exterior design.

The moves likely are a prelude to more changes as Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne moves to combine management of the two automakers, said Aaron Bragman, an industry analyst for the IHS Automotive consulting firm.

Marchionne plans to announce by the end of the year how he'll merge the two companies now that Fiat has a 52-percent controlling interest of Chrysler.

Bragman expects more executives to do several jobs as Fiat moves to combine its brands with those offered by Chrysler.

Although the Dodge brand is Chrysler's biggest with hundreds of thousands in sales, Bragman said he does not consider the Gilles move a demotion. The SRT brand will be aimed at ultra-enthusiasts who want the most souped-up versions of Chrysler's muscle cars, but it will sell only a few thousand vehicles.

"Ralph Gilles still is going to touch every single product that Chrysler has," Bragman said. "Ralph is a designer. He's not the marketing guy. He's not the business guy."

In 2009, Gilles was named to run Dodge in addition to being senior vice president of design as the company emerged from bankruptcy protection.

Chrysler spokeswoman Shawn Morgan said the SRT operation has models in three of four Chrysler brands and is considered the best of the company's vehicle lineup. Also, Fiat has a separate head for its Abarth high-performance brand in Italy, she said.

Diaz will continue to lead the Ram truck brand, and also was given added responsibilities as president and CEO of Chrysler's Mexican operations, which include Latin America. Morgan said Latin America is very important for future growth of Chrysler and Fiat.

The company also named David Buckingham as chief operating officer for Chrysler Canada. He had been head of sales in Canada.

The Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Chrysler announced the moves in a statement on Tuesday. They are effective immediately.

Chrysler's U.S. sales are up 19.5 percent through May, and Dodge brand sales have risen 19.1 percent, according to Autodata Corp.

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