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Fiat Chrysler chooses Jeep exec Manley to replace ailing CEO

July 21, 2018
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FILE - In this file photo dated Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, Mike Manley, head of Jeep brand, addresses the media during the North American International Auto Show, in Detroit, USA. The Fiat Chrysler's board on Saturday July 20, 2018, has recommended Jeep executive Mike Manley to replace seriously ill CEO Sergio Marchionne. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

ROME (AP) — Jeep executive Mike Manley will be the new CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobile after longtime leader Sergio Marchionne’s health suddenly deteriorated following surgery, the company announced Saturday.

Marchionne, a 66-year-old Italian-Canadian, joined Fiat in 2004 and led the Turin-based company’s merger with bankrupt U.S. carmaker Chrysler. Manley, 54, had been heading the Jeep brand since June 2009 and the Ram brand from October 2015 and has been with the company since 2000.

The announcement, at the end of an emergency board meeting Saturday, marked the end of the Marchionne era, which included the turnaround of failing Fiat, the takeover of bankrupt U.S. automaker Chrysler and the spinoffs of the heavy machinery and truck maker CNH and supercar maker Ferrari.

Marchionne, who is also a lawyer, was holding multiple leadership roles in the companies, notably as CEO of FCA — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, as well as CEO and chairman of Ferrari.

Fiat Chrysler said in a statement that due to his health Marchionne “will be unable to return to work.”

Marchionne had already announced he would step down from FCA in early 2019, so the board’s decision, to be confirmed at an upcoming shareholders’ meeting, will “accelerate” the CEO transition process, the statement said.

Ferrari announced that Louis Camilleri, an Egypt-born Maltese and longtime executive at tobacco company Philip Morris International, would replace Marchionne as CEO of the sports car maker.

The England-born Manley had been one of Marchionne’s closest collaborators at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and in a previous role had been responsible for product planning and all sales activities outside of North America.

Manley took over management of the Jeep brand in 2009, just after Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy protection. At the time, the all-SUV Jeep mainly was a U.S. brand, where annual sales languished at around 232,000. By 2017, though, sales had nearly quadrupled to more than 828,000 as Americans snapped up all-wheel-drive SUVs.

The brand also grew internationally, especially in China, under Manley.

Marchionne put Manley in charge of the Ram brand as well as Jeep in 2015. Much of Fiat Chrysler’s profits come from the Ram pickup, especially in the U.S.

FCA didn’t give details about Marchionne’s medical condition, which was reported to be surgery for a shoulder problem three weeks ago. But questions arose after it appeared his recovery was taking longer than expected.

Fiat is considered a close-knit family, and FCA chairman John Elkann said he was “profoundly saddened to learn of Sergio’s state of health. It was a situation that was unthinkable until a few hours ago, and one that leaves us all with a sense of injustice.”

Adding that his “first thoughts go to Sergio and his family,” Elkann asked everyone to respect Marchionne’s “privacy and that of all those who are dear to him.”

Elkann is a grandson of the late Gianni Agnelli, the longtime Fiat dynasty chieftain.

Analysts praised the choice of Manley even as they noted the challenges he will face.

“It’s an end of an era with the iconic, highly quotable, sweater-wearing Sergio Marchionne stepping down, with significant very concerns about his ailing health,” said Rebecca Lindland, executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

She called Manley a “worthy replacement at FCA, but it’s a huge job to not only fill Sergio’s shoes, but to run many brands that are facing capricious fortunes in a variety of markets.”

Lindland added that Manley’s “masterful management of Jeep and RAM will serve him well as he moves into this huge, global role.”

The boards of Ferrari and CNH Industrial, which makes heavy machinery and trucks, were also called to emergency meetings Saturday in Turin, Fiat’s headquarters.

CNH Industrial said its interim CEO, Derek Neilson, will continue on pending the selection of a permanent replacement for Marchionne. The board of CNH also named Suzanne Heywood as chairwoman, tapping a managing director of the Fiat-founding Agnelli family’s Exor investment holding company.

Marchionne made his last major presentation as CEO of Fiat Chrysler in June, unveiling the company’s plans through 2022. He announced a major investment thrust to make more electrified cars even though he said traditional engines will continue to dominate production.

Brands that have been driving the company’s revenues include Jeep SUVs, Ram trucks and the premium brands, Maserati and Alfa Romeo. Those brands were expected to account for 80 percent of revenues by 2022, compared to 65 percent currently.

The passenger-car brands of Fiat and Chrysler have been less profitable.

At the time, Marchionne said Fiat was poised to eliminate its debt. The next corporate results are to be released on July 25.

“Marchionne did an extraordinary job,” tweeted former Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni.

Then in apparent reference to Italian autoworkers unions’ protests over layoffs and restructuring, Gentiloni added: “Many criticized him, but those who remember the Fiat crisis of 20 years ago realize what courage and vision can do.”

Marchionne is passionate about the Ferrari racing team, and even after his planned retirement from Fiat Chrysler he had said he wanted to stay at the helm of the sports car company with the iconic horse symbol for a few more years.

The Ferrari racing team now leads the drivers’ and constructors’ championship this year and could end four years of Mercedes dominance.

On the eve of the running of the F1 Grand Prix in Germany on Sunday, Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff expressed concern about his rival Marchionne.

“He’s a character and an important personality for Formula One, and I’ve always appreciated sparring with him,” Wolff said.

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Milan-based AP business writer Colleen Barry, AP Auto Writer Tom Krisher and AP sports writer Jerome Pugmire in Hockenheim, Germany contributed.

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