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Fiat's Sergio Marchionne cleaning house at Dodge and Chrysler....but is there any real game plan here, or just panic in Turin?

  Remember these guys? Once the NASCAR lead pack for Dodge: (L-R)Michael Delahanty, Senior Manger of Motorsports Programs, Kasey Kahne, and Michael Accavitti Director of Dodge Motorsports. Delahanty is now with Ford Racing; Kahne is moving to Ford at the end of the season; and Accavitti just got axed by the Italians. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   KANSAS CITY, Kansas
   What in the world are those guys in Turin, Italy, thinking?
   Are they smoking the drapes?
   Is there any logic here?
   The Monday management shakeup at Chrysler and Dodge that Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne abruptly launched, for still unclear reasons, certainly doesn't seem designed to boost morale – either among customers and potential customers, or among the rank-and-file workers…or among NASCAR's MoPar fans.
   And now once again there are questions being raised about the future of Chrysler-Dodge – whether it can even survive.
   The Monday headlines are that Fiat effectively fired the head of Chrysler and the head of Dodge, barely three months after promoting them to those positions.
   Doesn't sound like there's much of a game plan over in Turin.
   The loss of Mike Accavitti, head of Dodge, and long-time Dodge racing boss, is the NASCAR lead. And it doesn't appear to bode well for the one remaining NASCAR Dodge operation, even if that operation is owned by Roger Penske.
   Maybe Kasey Kahne and George Gillett and Richard Petty and those guys are getting out while the getting is good.
   Is Dodge about to go the way of Hudson and Studebaker and Pontiac?
   Well, the guys over Turin don't seem to be in tune with how things work in the U.S.  (Fiat owns 20 percent of the company; the U.S. and Canadian governments, and the United Auto Workers own the rest at the moment.)
    In fact it almost seems like Fiat executives, in this latest shakeup, may alienate Chrysler/Dodge/MoPar/Ram customers.
    Logic here? Hard to find.
    For example, Fiat is now separating Dodge cars from Dodge trucks, as two separate divisions, apparently with two distinct dealership lines. How that would improve sales is unclear, since someone loyal to the brand would presumably be interested in both its cars and trucks.
   At the moment Chrysler's share of the domestic US market is about eight percent, down slightly over the first nine months of the year.
   Over the past two years morale at Chrysler-Dodge was hit hard by cost-cutting measures by former owner Cerberus that pushed dozens of major mid-level managers out the door.
    September sales were down almost 50 percent from a year ago, and trucks – including SUVs -- continue to be the company's mainstay sellers, over cars.
   Here's Monday's official statement from Marchionne:
   "Chrysler Group LLC today announces brand and commercial organization changes.
   "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. This reorganization will allow us to protect and develop the unique nature of the product offerings within the Dodge Brand.
   "Fred Diaz Jr. is appointed President and CEO, Dodge Ram Brand with profit and loss responsibility for the Dodge RAM product portfolio. Mr. Diaz will also be the lead executive for the Sales organization in the United States. He was previously the Director of the Denver Business Center. Mr. Diaz has been with the Company since 1989 in positions of increasing responsibility. The Company will announce Mr. Diaz's replacement with a separate announcement.
    "Ralph Gilles is appointed President and CEO, Dodge Car Brand with profit and loss responsibility for the Dodge Car product portfolio. Mr. Gilles will continue to lead the Product Design organization of Chrysler Group which he joined in 1992.
   "Olivier Francois is appointed President and CEO, Chrysler Brand, with profit and loss responsibility for the Chrysler product portfolio. Mr. Francois joins the Company from Fiat Group Automobiles where he serves as head of the Lancia Brand, a position he retains. Mr. Francois will also be the lead executive for the Marketing organization with responsibility to 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. Mr. Francois joined Fiat in 2005.
   "Michael Manley will continue as the President and CEO, Jeep Brand with profit and loss responsibility for the Jeep Brand product portfolio. Mr. Manley will also be the lead executive for the international activities of the Company outside of NAFTA and will be responsible for implementing the co-operation agreements for distribution of Chrysler Group products through Fiat’s international distribution network. Mr. Manley has been with Chrysler since 1998.
    "Joseph Veltri joins the Management Team as Head of Product Planning. Mr. Veltri started with the Company in 1988. His career has included positions in product planning, marketing, business strategy, and finance. He served most recently as Product Planning Lead and Head of Truck/SUV Planning.
   "Peter Fong, head of the Chrysler Brand has resigned for personal reasons. Michael Accavitti, head of the Dodge Brand has resigned to pursue other interests."

  Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne (Photo: Chrysler)

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