by Delphine TOUITOU
Michael Manley, named Saturday to replace Sergio Marchionne as chief of Fiat Chrysler (FCA), is the 54-year-old head of the group’s Jeep brand, where he managed to push sales through the one-million mark last year.
Born in Edenbridge, southeast of London, Manley has been appointed as overall head of FCA after Marchionne was forced to step down due to health reasons.
An engineer by training, Manley took the driver’s seat at Jeep in June 2009 at a time when the US auto sector in general was battling huge headwinds whipped up by the global financial crisis the previous year.
Having joined the UK division of what was then Daimler Chrysler in 2000 as a distribution networks specialist, Manley broadened his global experience by becoming chief operating officer of Chrysler’s Asia-Pacific operations.
From 2015, he also led Ram, producing big pick-ups and vans under the Chrysler badge after it and Fiat had merged in 2014.
With Manley at the helm, Jeep — dubbed one of America’s top three most patriotic brands in a Brand Keys study published last month — has more than trebled sales, breaking through the one million mark last year and becoming the main driver of profits for the entire FCA group.
Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader, said that “the success of the Jeep brand under Mike Manley and his global background make him the smart choice to be the new head of FCA.
“His international experience in growing that brand will play a key role as he applies those techniques to all of the Fiat Chrysler divisions.”
Under Manley’s stewardship, Jeep’s unit sales have soared from 337,000 in 2008 — 80 percent of which were in North America — to 1.4 million last year. And the target is to hit 1.9 million over the next year.
– ‘As recognizable as Coca Cola’ –
Manley noted recently that one SUV (sports utility vehicle) in 17 sold this year worldwide would be a Jeep.
And the brand is targeting to increase that proportion to one in 12 by 2022 and one in five thereafter, making the iconic vehicle “as recognizable as Coca-Cola,” not to mention its appeal as a status symbol, he said.
Analysts at Morgan Stanley estimate that Jeep will this year account for some 70 percent of overall group profits.
The premium brand is also key to a five-year FCA plan unveiled by Marchionne in June to increasingly focus on hybrid and electric vehicles.
His good track record with the all-terrain brand made Manley a key lieutenant of Marchionne and a logical choice to replace him now that health reasons have forced the Italian-Canadian executive to step down.
Marchionne, 66, has been suffering serious complications following surgery on his right shoulder last month.
Manley holds a master of business administration from England’s Ashridge Management College and a bachelor of science in engineering from London’s Southbank University. (Agence France-Presse/AFP)