By Richard Truesdell
With Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne gravely ill, the FCA board acted swiftly to accelerate a succession plan already in place, naming Jeep and Ram executive Mike Manley as Marchionne's successor.
The FCA board announced the move Saturday following Italian media reports that Marchionne's health had taken a turn for the worse due to complications arising from shoulder surgery. His condition has been called irreversible.
Who Is Manley?
The 54-year-old Mike Manley, of Britain, has presided over FCA's financial crown jewels Jeep since 2009 and Ram since 2015. During the last decade he has been one of Marchionne's closest confidants as Marchionne successfully merged Fiat with Chrysler in 2014, creating the world's seventh largest global automaker. Manley's greatest achievement thus far has been to take Jeep global, quadrupling sales since 2009, from 338,000 units to 1,400,000 in 2017.
After a dearth of new product launches, Manley spearheaded the worldwide launch of the all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler and redesigned 2019 Ram 1500. Manley succeeded where Daimler failed by making Jeep a worldwide brand. Now he will be in the CEO seat as FCA launches several important new products during the next 24 months, including the new 2020 Ram 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty pickups, the launch of the pickup version of the Jeep Wrangler called the Scrambler, an all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee, a new mid-sized pickup that will be sold under both the Ram and Fiat brands, as well as the Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer luxury SUVs very likely based on the body-on-frame architecture of the 2019 Ram. To say that Manley will have his hands full would be an understatement.
While trained as an engineer, Manley rose through the ranks via dealer sales, joining Chrysler's United Kingdom operations in 2000 when the automaker was part of Daimler. He was named head of Jeep at the time of Fiat's acquisition in 2009 in the wake of Chrysler's managed bankruptcy by the Obama administration. In 2015 responsibility for Ram was added to his duties as FCA continued to grow the Ram brand into an even bigger sales powerhouse. Concurrently, Manley expanded Jeep sales in key overseas markets including China, India, Brazil and the European Union. Analysts estimate that Jeep alone could be worth the entire $30 billion market capitalization of FCA.
All Eyes on Manley
FCA will announce its quarterly results Wednesday in an earnings call with all attention focused on Manley. The results are expected to come in strong with FCA's operating margins improving (6 percent), ahead of Ford (5.2 percent) but still behind GM (7.2 percent) among domestic automakers. Beyond the aggressive light truck product launch, Manley's second biggest task will be to improve quality among all FCA brands: Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Maserati and Ram. FCA, plagued by recalls and diesel emissions compliance issues, has room to improve. Conversely, after years of eliminating dealers since the 2008 economic downturn, FCA is increasing its dealer footprint in North America.
Third on Manley's agenda will be to implement a companywide electrification program across all its brands. FCA has partnered with Google's Waymo in the autonomous vehicle category. In May, Waymo announced it was adding 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to its self-driving fleet. When it comes to electrification, FCA is playing catch up, but it has announced it will have up to 30 battery-electric and hybrid vehicles among its brands by 2022.
It will be up to Manley to implement FCA's latest five-year plan, unveiled by Marchionne in a June 1 meeting with analysts. Crucial to the success of that plan will be continued expansion of the Ram brand, which at times has nipped at the heels of Chevrolet in overall North American sales, and a successful, glitch-free launch of the oft-delayed next-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee in 2019 with the Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer models to follow in 2020. If successful, it could push Jeep's worldwide sales well beyond the 2,000,000 mark by 2020.
Manley will push forward this agenda without the help of FCA's Alfredo Altavilla, head of Europe, Middle East and Africa business. One of two others considered as Marchionne's successor, Altavilla stepped down recently. The other possible successor was FCA Chief Financial Officer Richard Palmer; analysts will be watching to see if Palmer departs as well. Palmer was instrumental in the completion of Fiat's merger with Chrysler in 2014 and is well-regarded by the financial communities in the U.S. and Europe.