Chrysler splits Dodge brand into truck, car groups

Chrysler’s new Italian management has once again shaken up the automaker’s executive team, announcing the departure of two recently appointed brand CEOs and splitting the Dodge brand into two groups, one focusing on trucks and the other on cars.

The moves, announced Monday, marked the second management shake-up since Fiat Group SpA CEO Sergio Marchionne took control of Chrysler on June 10 when it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Peter Fong, president and CEO of the Chrysler brand and the company’s top sales executive, and Michael Accavitti, president and CEO of the Dodge brand, abruptly left the company, Fong for personal reasons and Accavitti to pursue other interests, Chrysler said in a statement.

Sales of Chrysler Group LLC vehicles, which consist of the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands, are down 39 percent for the first nine months of the year. Chrysler also was caught unprepared for the government’s Cash for Clunkers program and had too few small vehicles on dealer lots to benefit much from the rebates.

Chrysler sales spokesman Gualberto Ranieri would not comment when asked if the departures were related to Chrysler’s sales performance.

Chrysler said that it would split the Dodge brand into truck and car groups. The truck group will be led by Fred Diaz Jr., who previously ran the company’s Denver business center. The Ram brand consists of the company’s new Ram pickup trucks, as well as its commercial vehicles. Diaz also will take over as lead sales executive in the U.S. for the Chrysler Group organization.

Vice President of Design Ralph Gilles will take over leadership of the Dodge car brand, which includes minivans, in addition to his current design responsibilities, the company said.

The two men replace Accavitti, who resigned to pursue other interests, Chrysler said. Accavitti was appointed to head Dodge by Marchionne in June when Chrysler emerged from Chapter 11.

“This reorganization will allow us to protect and develop the unique nature of the product offerings within the Dodge brand,” Marchionne said in a statement.

The company also said Fong resigned for personal reasons, and he was replaced by an executive from Fiat, Oliver Francois, as Chrysler brand president and CEO. Francois served as head of the Lancia brand, Chrysler said in a statement.

Michael Manley remains as president and CEO of the Jeep division.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.