New Fiat Chrysler boss transformed Jeep brand as company focuses on SUVs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV's FCHA.MI new chief executive Mike Manley, who has overseen the effort to turn Jeep into a global brand, now plans to carry out the parent company's strategy unveiled last month, the company said Saturday.

FILE PHOTO: Mike Manley, head of the Jeep brand, speaks the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California U.S. November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File photo

The Italian-American carmaker said the British-born Manley, 54, is taking over immediately from FCA Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne, 66, who is seriously ill after suffering major complications following surgery.

Manley, who also takes responsibility for the North America region, will push ahead with the strategy outlined by Marchionne in June to ramp up sport utility vehicles and invest 9 billion euros ($10.6 billion) in electric and hybrid cars. Marchionne had been due to step down next April.

“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,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book.

Manley, a British native and auto industry veteran, has run the Jeep brand since June 2009 after the company emerged from bankruptcy restructuring following U.S. and Canadian government bailouts and under Fiat’s control.

Since then, Jeep’s annual sales have risen from about 300,000 - nearly all in the U.S. market - to 1.4 million worldwide last year.

Fiat Chrysler, the world’s seventh largest automaker, said last month it expects one in every 12 utility vehicle sold industry-wide by 2022 to be a Jeep.

Jeep plans to launch nine new products, enter three new segments including large SUVs, and offer four battery electric versions by 2022.

Under Manley, Fiat Chrysler expanded Jeep production outside the United States, including in China, India, Mexico and Italy, as the brand has worked to expand global sales.

“The fact that there’s already a new plan that the entire senior management team has bought into makes it somewhat easier for Manley as his successor,” said George Galliers, a London-based analyst with brokerage Evercore ISI.

Manley joined then DaimlerChrysler in 2000 and remained at Chrysler after Daimler AG DAIGn.DE exited Chrysler. He also assumed responsibility for the Ram truck brand in 2015.

Morgan Stanley analysts estimated in June that the Jeep and Ram brands have annual revenue of $84 billion, or two thirds of the company’s total, calling the brands “pivotal” for FCA’s future.

Manley is known for a dry sense of humor. At the Detroit auto show in January he noted all automakers’ excessive enthusiasm. “In this business we’ve become so good at making up accolades I’m just waiting for the best, the most capable black paint ever sprayed on a truck,” Manley joked.

Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington, Additional reporting by Laurence Frost in Paris; Editing by James Dalgleish