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Chrysler, Dodge get new leaders

by Bill Cawthon on

Chrysler Group has announced the creation of Ram as a brand in its own right and named Fred Diaz as its president and CEO. Designer Ralph Gilles will become the CEO of Dodge cars while retaining his position as the head of Chrysler design. Gilles is probably best known for the design of the Chrysler 300, but also was responsible for the current Dodge minivan and Ram 1500 styling, and has been rapidly rising in the corporate hierarchy.

Ralph Gilles

Mike Accavitti, who was in charge of Dodge, has left the company to “pursue other interests,” as the saying goes in a shakeup. Accavitti has been with Chrysler for more than 20 years, starting as a manufacturing engineer in the Chrysler-Maserati joint venture that produced the Chrysler TC. Subsequently, he worked in various manufacturing positions, rising to become Chrysler LLC’s director of brand marketing.

Fred Diaz joined Chrysler in 1989, rising through the sales, service, marketing, and customer relations groups until he headed Dodge brand communications from 2004 to 2006. He was put in charge of the Denver business center after that, heading sales, service, and field ops there.

Olivier Francois, currently CEO of Fiat S.p.A.’s Lancia brand, is replacing Peter Fong as CEO of the Chrysler brand. Francois will also continue to head up Lancia. Chrysler says Fong, a former Navy pilot who had worked with Ford’s sales and marketing until joining the former Chrysler LLC last year, “resigned for personal reasons.”

Parisian Olivier Francois, has been in charge of Fiat’s brand communication since January 2009, but has headed Lancia since 2005, joining virtually at the top; he was hired away from Citroen, where he had been general manager for Citroen in Italy and, earlier, in Denmark.

Michael Manley continues as CEO of Jeep, but his secondary duty as product planner for the full group has been shifted to Detroit native Joseph Veltri. Veltri has been product planning lead and head of truck/SUV product planning since July, responsible for both truck and SUV product planning and continuity across brands. He will now be in charge of product planning across the group. Veltri joined Chrysler in 1988 as an analyst, leaving KPMG to take the post; he was later put in charge of Dodge Truck marketing and product planning.

In a statement, Sergio Marchionne, CEO of both Fiat and Chrysler, said, “This reorganization will allow us to protect and develop the unique nature of the product offerings within the Dodge Brand.”

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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