October 5, 2009 / 1:30 PM / 10 years ago

Chrysler creates Dodge Ram brand for trucks

DETROIT (Reuters) - Chrysler Group LLC has created a separate Ram brand for its Dodge pickup trucks and replaced the heads of two car brands as the automaker rushes to complete a critical long-term business plan.

The Chrysler logo hangs on the wall at Performance Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership in Phoenix, Arizona May 16, 2009. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

Chrysler, which has been rushing to revamp its old product lineup after it emerged from bankruptcy in June under a new management led by Fiat SpA, said its Dodge brand will be split into two: the Dodge Ram brand and the Dodge Car brand.

The company named Fred Diaz Jr. to lead the Dodge Ram brand and Ralph Gilles to head the Dodge Car brand. The executives will split the role formerly held by Michael Accavitti, who has left Chrysler.

The new brand strategy and executive changes come only four months after Chrysler completed its bankruptcy reorganization by selling most of its assets to a group led by Fiat, which took a 20 percent ownership in Chrysler and full management control.

People with knowledge of the matter told Reuters last week that the No. 3 U.S. automaker planned to create a Ram brand for what have been Dodge-branded trucks.

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

Meanwhile, Olivier Francois, who serves as head of Fiat’s Lancia brand, has been named to head the Chrysler brand, replacing Peter Fong. Francois retains his position at Fiat.

Chrysler’s iconic Jeep brand will continue to be led by Michael Manley. He will be also responsible for its international operations outside North America and implementing plans to distribute Chrysler vehicles globally through Fiat’s international network.

Many analysts, suppliers and other automotive executives say Chrysler desperately needs new vehicles to steer its faltering operations toward recovery. Chrysler’s U.S. sales plunged 42 percent in September from a year ago.

The automaker is hammering out the final details of a five-year turnaround plan to be announced in November.

Marchionne said recently that he was surprised at the lack of product development done by Chrysler’s previous owners, Cerberus Capital Management and Daimler AG, in the two years before his arrival in June.

Reporting by Soyoung Kim, editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Dave Zimmerman

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