Chrysler Group Shuffles Marketing Team, Eyes International Market

Chrysler Group is making several marketing and sales management changes as the DaimlerChrysler division labors under a cloud of uncertainty about its future.

Steven Landry, currently vice president/sales and field operations, will be promoted to executive vice president/NAFTA sales, global marketing, service and parts; Michael Manley, vice president/sales strategy and dealer operations, is being promoted to executive vice president/international sales, marketing and business development. Both report to Chrysler Group CEO Tom LaSorda.

Pursuant to those changes, Darryl Jackson, currently heading up Chrysler's Great Lakes regional operations, will replace Landry as vice president/sales, and Michael Keegan will become vice president/volume planning and sales operations. Also, Thomas Hausch will be promoted to vice president/international sales. Jackson and Keegan will report to Landry; Hausch will report to Manley.

LaSorda, who assumed responsibility for sales and marketing at Chrysler Group in December and will relinquish some of his responsibilities to Landry, says the changes are integral to Chrysler's recovery and transformation plan. The changes "align the company toward further growth in international markets," he says, adding that Chrysler's goal has been to double sales in five years. "This will allow us to handle business development [in international markets]," during that time, he says.



Among strategic changes, per LaSorda, in the last 100 days, since he took the helm, the company has revamped ad strategy for its brands, "to drive up brand equity and bring people into showrooms," he says. New creative for Chrysler division starts rolling out this week or next. "We have revamped the Dodge marketing approach as well, which you won't see for a few months--and as you know, we have changed Jeep's ad agency, and they will introduce fresh creative," he says. Jeep's new ad agency, San Francisco-based Cutwater, will handle national creative duties with sibling BBDO, Detroit, retaining other elements of Jeep's $360 million 2006 advertising, marketing and media spend.

Chrysler Group is considering selling what had once been half of a "merger of equals." Bidders reportedly include Blackstone Group LP, Cerberus Capital, and a Canada-based supplier to the Big Three, VW and BMW. LaSorda says he's trying to ignore what he can't change. "First of all, what I tell the internal leadership team is that things that we can focus on are recovery and transformation, and these two leaders [Landry and Manley] are not rookies--these are veterans with 25 years of experience in the field, so I have people here with more experience in marketing than I need. I'm very confident of what we're doing and where we're heading. The dealers will be a strong support here."

He says Landry has presented proposals to reduce rental fleet sales and put a greater emphasis on retail sales in the U.S. "That plan is in motion as we speak."

Per LaSorda, the group plans to take daily rental sales down to 70,000 units this year, with a goal of making fleet sales 21% of total volume, with daily rental sales down to 15% of overall volume.

He says dealer inventory has declined from last year's record levels, a circumstance that led to the ouster of Joe Eberhardt. "The bottom line is, the inventory at end of March was 471,000 units--one of the lowest-level units, versus 588,000 units this time last year, so dealers are excited."

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