UPDATE 1-Chrysler names Fiat brand chief for N.America

Wed Mar 10, 2010 4:15pm EST

* VW marketing exec to oversee Fiat 500 launch

* Fiat's small cars crucial for Chrysler turnaround

DETROIT, March 10 (Reuters) - Chrysler hired a Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) executive to lead the reintroduction of its Fiat brand in North America -- a brand that represents the core of the automaker's efforts to bring out fuel-efficient small cars.

Laura Soave will oversee the North American debut of the Fiat 500 small car in late 2010 and hold responsibility for the overall Fiat product portfolio in the region, Chrysler said on Wednesday.

Laura Soave is joining from Volkswagen America where she most recently served as a marketing executive. She will hold full profit and loss responsibility for the Fiat brand in North America and report to Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of Chrysler and Fiat SpA FIA.MI.

"Her rich background will serve as a springboard for reintroducing the Fiat brand when it takes to U.S. and Canadian roads this December after more than a 25-year absence," Marchionne said in a statement.

Chrysler, which emerged from bankruptcy in June under management control of Fiat, is counting on a new generation of small cars from Fiat including the 500 small car to revive its aging vehicle lineup dominated by big trucks and SUVs.

The Obama administration gave Fiat a 20 percent stake in Chrysler in exchange for bringing smaller vehicles and more fuel-efficient engines to the No. 3 U.S. automaker.

Chrysler's U.S. sales held flat in February from a year earlier, the first time since December 2007 that its U.S. monthly sales did not decline from the same month the previous year. (Reporting by Soyoung Kim; editing by Carol Bishopric)

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